The wearables market is more diverse than ever, but if there's one constant, it's the battle between richer functionality and preserving battery life; one of the many areas that Qualcomm's new Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 and W5 Plus Gen 1 chipsets hope to address.
Both new chips promise big gains in performance and functionality, as well as battery life, one of the biggest hurdles that the makers of the best smartwatches are constantly striving to improve on.
The last major release of Qualcomm's wearable chipset was just over two years ago, in the form of the Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform, and like its predecessor, the 2022 offering also comes in two versions: Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 and W5 Plus Gen 1. (dubbed 'W5+ Gen 1'), which received a rebrand to complement the name of the company's latest smartphone-focused chips; reducing the "Wear" in "Snapdragon Wear" to just "W" and adding "Gen 1" to the end.
Beyond the name, both models offer a similar range of benefits, made possible by the move to a much more refined 4nm process (compared to 12nm in the 4100 line). While there are a number of other tweaks over its predecessor, building on this 30% smaller process offers the biggest improvement, creating a much more efficient chip which in turn means better battery life.
Compared to Snapdragon Wear 4100+, Qualcomm claims that an equivalent Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 powered smartwatch offers twice the battery life, twice the performance and higher fidelity experiences.
In real terms, this means the next wave of smartwatches using these Qualcomm chips will deliver smoother, more responsive user experiences than the current crop, with double the time between charges.
The Oppo Watch 3 has already been confirmed to be based on a W5 Gen 1 and will arrive in August, while Mobvoi has committed to using the new top-tier W5+ Gen 1 in its next smartwatch.
Analysis: Should the Apple Watch be worried?
One of the big upgrades Apple added to the current Apple Watch 7 was Quick Charge, which offers 33% faster charging compared to the Apple Watch 6, but the company was already catching up with Qualcomm's latest wearable silicon. In this sense, with offers such as the Fossil Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus watch that has its own fast charge that charges the phone to 80% in just 30 minutes.
With the advances the W5 lineup brings to the table, that gap is only getting bigger, unless Apple pulls something special in the Apple Watch 8's power efficiency department.
The other side of the coin is that despite Qualcomm's dominant position in the market, its wearable chips often struggle to find a foothold behind the Apple Watch and Samsung's popular Galaxy Watch line.