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The Google Pixel Watch needs a good chip, but which ?

In the early part of this week, Google made official what many of us have guessed for quite some time: the Google Pixel Watch will be released later on in the fall. The unveiling was more of a teaser than a full-blown announcement, and while we did discover some details, it was more of a teaser than anything else. 

A portion of it was to be anticipated, and of course, the next few months will be full of speculation about what the definitive design of the Pixel Watch will be like. But there is one component of the chip that Google has to improve upon.

It is very evident, both from the appearance of the Pixel Watch and from the company's major investment in retooling Wear OS, that Google is attempting to create an Android flagship wristwatch that is capable of competing favorably with the Apple Watch. 

The fact is, Google wasn't the only party to blame for Wear OS's glacial development. Wear OS was held back for a period of years because there were not enough capable CPUs available.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear chip is used in the majority of Wear OS watches.

 A handful of them are powered by proprietary chips, although that is the exception rather than the rule. At a time when Samsung and Apple were constantly releasing new advanced wristwatch features on ever-more-powerful SoCs, Qualcomm, for understandable reasons, devoted more attention into its mobile chips than it did into its wearable ones. Because of this, Wear OS was left without a CPU that was able to keep up. The watches were sluggish, and downloading apps on the wrist might be a frustrating and time-consuming process. Additionally, there were instances when it seemed as though the watch was actively working against you.

There are many reasons why Wear OS found it difficult to establish a footing in the market, but there are two primary causes that brought it to where it is today: rare updates to the software and this chip problem. At the very least, Wear OS 3 is a focused effort on the software front, which was going to be a bumpy ride regardless, as fixing either issue was going to be difficult. 

The hardware issue is somewhat more concerning due to the fact that, up until this point, the majority of Wear OS watches have relied on chips manufactured by Qualcomm. And sadly, Qualcomm didn't deliver.

There was cause for optimism when Qualcomm introduced the Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform because it would utilize more recent, albeit still antiquated, processing technology. 

This would make it possible to achieve speedier performance and incorporate more cutting-edge capabilities. After then, though, it took over a year for a few watches to actually start using it, and the overall experience was not significantly enhanced at that time.

To put it plainly, the Snapdragon Wear 3100 and 4100 platforms will not suffice for the Google Pixel Watch. 

It was illuminating that Samsung chose to employ its very own Exynos W920 system-on-chip (SoC) rather than the Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform for the Galaxy Watch 4 series, which included the very first watches that ran Wear OS 3. Whatever Qualcomm had available, it simply could not compete with the technology that Samsung had developed on its own.

And when Google and Fossil started outlining how upgrades to Wear OS 3 may operate, it became abundantly evident that the 3100 wouldn't be sufficient either.

 Contrary to what many people anticipated, Fossil disclosed that none of its 3100-powered smartwatches would be upgraded to the new unified platform. When Google announced which existing Wear OS watches would be eligible for an upgrade to Wear OS 3, it not only excluded all 3100-powered watches but also included the ominous message among others that "in some limited cases, the user experience may be impacted.

This was done when Google announced which watches would be eligible for the upgrade.

The clincher was when Qualcomm said in July 2021 that it was getting its ducks in a right to produce a new 5100 platform within the next year. This occurred a few months after the unveiling of Wear OS 3, which took place a few months earlier. This should indicate that the 5100 is nearly ready, unless there was a delay in its production.

This raises a very important topic for us. 

What exactly will be the power source for the Google Pixel Watch? And will it be able to operate Wear OS 3 in the manner that Google had envisioned?

It's possible that Google will acquire a license for the Exynos W920 from Samsung. Multiple times, when asked for a statement on whether or not that's a possibility, Samsung has chosen not to provide one. (This is perfectly understandable.) Another recent report states that Samsung's previous-generation wearable technology, the Exynos 9110, would be used into the Pixel Watch. Or, given Qualcomm's sudden determination to rush development of a new wearable processor, it's possible that the Pixel will be one of the first watches to be powered by the 5100 platform. This is another possibility. Or perhaps Google will modify their Tensor chip so that it can be used in the Pixel Watch. We requested Google to comment on the processor that is included in the Pixel Watch, but the company declined to comment.

It is difficult to forecast any of these possible outcomes. Wear OS 3 performed quite well on the Galaxy Watch 4, with the exception of its poor battery life when used in conjunction with the always-on display. Even while both devices use the same processor, it is not accurate to say that the Pixel Watch would experience the same issues. It will run an updated version of the Wear OS 3 user interface, and it is highly unlikely that it will use the same same components. Already, there is evidence to imply that the sizes of the batteries varies. It is possible that the watch will be disappointing because it is powered by an outdated Exynos 9110 processor, but this will not be the end of the world. Tizen was able to run very efficiently on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, and Wear OS 3 incorporates Tizen in some capacity. In terms of the Galaxy Watch 3's battery life, it wasn't anything to write home about, but it was, at least in my experience, better than its successor. This is something I can say with certainty.

It would be interesting if Google decided to go with a Tensor chip since, for one thing, we wouldn't know what to expect and, for another, the company wouldn't be constrained by a third party. Given what has happened in the past, it is difficult to have high hopes for a Qualcomm 5100 chip.

Having said that, Qualcomm might shock everyone, and it's hard for me to conceive that Google would settle for a poor chip when it's been working tirelessly and consistently for more than two years to prepare the basis for the Pixel Watch. That would be a failure to perform when it mattered the most.

What it cannot afford, though, is performance that is sluggish and a battery life that is pitiful.

In all likelihood, we won't know what kind of chip it will be until Google officially announces it later on in this year. But if there's one thing that's certain, it's that Wear OS 3 can't make the same mistakes as its predecessors. It is not the end of the world if the Pixel Watch does not come equipped with electrocardiograms that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), body temperature sensors, and every other experimental health function known to man. (We also questioned Google about this, but the company declined to comment once again.) Those things can always be done at a later time. What it cannot afford is performance that is sluggish and a battery life that is dismal.

Testing the Pixel Watch ourselves will be the only way to determine whether or not Google was successful (or unsuccessful). However, being aware of what is driving it would at least provide some indication of what to anticipate.


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