Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) is a company focused on the development of semiconductor chipsets for products and services in the wireless communications realm. In recent months, the San Diego-based tech firm has been working to further its reach into the wearable electronics realm. This February, Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor as the flagship product in the company’s Snapdragon Wear processor platform for wearables. The Wear 2100 is 30 percent smaller and uses 25 percent less power than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 mobile device processors according to spec sheets available on Qualcomm’s website. The processor also features an integrated smart sensor hub and a next-generation LTE modem which can integrate with either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth networks.
While the Snapdragon Wear 2100 was designed mainly for smartwatch devices, the company has more recently unveiled a new semiconductor chip product for targeted-purpose wearables. The Snapdragon Wear 1100, announced in late May, has an even smaller form factor than the Wear 2100, coming in at 79 mm2 as compared to the 100 mm2 size of Qualcomm’s flagship wearable processor. The Wear 1100 syncs with the GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo satellite constellations for highly accurate location tracking. Qualcomm suggests that the processor is well suited for devices with more targeted functionality than smartwatches, such as location trackers for the young and elderly, fitness trackers, smart headsets and other wearable accessories. The announcement of the new wearable device semiconductor processor was made at the recent COMPUTEX 2016 tech conference in Taiwan.
Qualcomm has long been involved in the active pursuit of patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect its innovations. In 2015, the tech giant placed fourth overall among all companies obtaining U.S. patents, having earned a total of 2,900 U.S. patents that year. The patent portfolio analysis tools available through Innography show us that the company has 162 issued patents and patent applications in the field of wearables. The text cluster provided here shows that a significant subset of this is directed at wearable devices, although were also seeing communication protocol and augmented reality technologies in this portfolio.
The use of wearable devices as a tool for authenticating a person’s identity is a Qualcomm development that is reflected in the filing of U.S. Patent Application No. 20160080941, titled Method and Apparatus that Facilitates a Wearable Identity Manager. It would protect a method to facilitate a wireless communication by monitoring identity device data corresponding to a path traversed by a wearable identity manager device, monitoring pairing device data corresponding to an interaction with a pairing device and authenticating a user based on a comparison of the different monitoring data. The use of the wearable identity manager device, which can be worn continuously in a bracelet configuration, addresses shortcomings in the use of personal identification numbers (PINs) which can be forgotten or password managers on smartphones and other devices, which increase the risk of unauthorized account access when a device is lost or stolen.
The Snapdragon Wear 1100 is already being incorporated into consumer devices like the wearable tracking device developed by Miami-based WeBandz. The tracking module is designed to be easily attached to or detached from a bracelet or a backpack dongle so that parents can use location tracking technologies to keep tabs on their kids’ activities. WeBandz is in the prototype phase now but a press release issued by the company in late May indicates that the company will launch its flagship tracker in the fourth quarter of 2016. The Snapdragon Wear 2100 is also being used in child trackers developed by Latin America-based Anda Technologies as well as Chinese smartwatch developer inWatch.
One of the corporate partners involved with developing the Snapdragon Wear platform for use in Internet of Things (IoT) applications is Borqs International Holdings, a global developer of IoT software and products. Borqs is involved with the development of both the inWatch and Anda child tracking devices mentioned above. In February, Qualcomm announced all three original device manufacturers (ODMs) it would partner with to develop the Snapdragon Wear ecosystem including Borqs, Taiwan-based Compal Electronics and South Korea tech firm Infomark.
Although much of the recent Qualcomm wearable focus has been on tracking devices, we’re seeing technologies related to head-mounted wearables in the company’s U.S. Patent No. 9183612, which is titled Wearable Display Device Use-Based Data Processing Control. It protects a method of controlling a wearable display device connected to a host device, the method involving the determination of a use status for the wearable device based on touch sensor feedback, sending a use status indication to the host device and controlling host device data processing to generate multimedia data for playback on the wearable display device. The offloading of processing operations from the wearable device to the host device can improve the battery life of wearables which may have limited resources. This kind of power-saving mechanism is one of the selling points of the Snapdragon Wear platform.
A technology for targeted-purpose wearables offering gesture control over other electronic devices is reflected within U.S. Patent No. 9000887, titled Method and Apparatus for Communicating Control Information by a Wearable Device to Control Mobile and Consumer Electronic Devices. It protects a method for communicating control information which involves determining movement data from wearable devices worn by a user, generating sets of possibly performed gestures, inferring that a movement is representative of an intended command and transmitting information based on the inference. When incorporated into a ring or a similar wearable, this technology can detect tilt and rotational gestures and enables the remote control of electronic devices, addressing the increasing constraint on the mechanisms electronic device owners can use to interact with their devices in the face of growing functionality.
Much of the early development of wearable technologies is focused on fitness and location tracking services but there are other ways that wearables could impact our lives. Some have suggested the use of wearables to monitor hazardous working environments in commercial trucking or oil & gas mining. The wearables market is about to scale up in a big way, according to some industry forecasts. A recent Research and Markets study on the global wireless market predicts that sales of wearables will increase from 2.3 million units shipped in 2015 up to 66.4 million units in 2021. That increase in consumption for wearables should help the global wearables market hit $40 billion by the year 2020, according to market research from ReportsnReports.