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Ian Ferguson Blog: Ready to Ride the Wave of Wearables?

by Guest Author on 15 October 2013, 13:40

Tags: ARM

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This is a guest blog by Ian Ferguson, vice president of segment marketing at ARM. The views expressed in this blog are his and his alone. We invited Ian to share some of his thoughts on a hot topic of late: wearable technology.

I wonder if the industry will look back at 3Q13 as the point in history when the wearables market finally reached the credibility point, to be regarded as an application area, to be tracked as application segment in its own right?

Sure, there were announcements ahead of this. A number of companies had announced and indeed shipped a (non-trivial) number of units in the main application areas of infotainment, fitness/wellness and healthcare, including:

In addition to this, a small number of pioneering analyst firms like Canalys have started to track the trends of this space. That said, the number of public milestones - let alone those that are being worked on behind closed doors - reached an incredible level this month:

  • Samsung announced its  Galaxy Gear product
  • On the same day, Qualcomm announced its Toq (pronounced “tock”) platform
  • Google acquired Wimm Labs, an early pioneer in the smartwatch field
  • Jawbone, the company well-known for Bluetooth handsets, continued its acquisition of companies which, to me, signal its desire to take wearable technology toward the healthcare market
  • Foxconn, the world’s largest original design manufacturer (ODM), acquired more than 8 per cent of Woodman Labs, the company behind the GoPro product
  • Nissan announced a smartwatch on September 12th
  • At the IFA show in Berlin, a product called Nymi debuted. This wristband lets you use your heartbeat as a password

Defining the wearables market

Shortly after the Samsung and Qualcomm announcements, I spoke to a mobile network operator that had pulled us in to help them make sense of the space. As with any emerging market, there is a diversity of technology approaches by the pioneers in this area, as companies explore the right balance of functionality, cost, form factor and battery life.

Eyewear offers the opportunity to incorporate more batteries and so far, these platforms are being deployed running Android on ARM® Cortex®-A profile processors. In the area of bands and smartwatches, space and weight become more important. These devices will assume the availability of a smart device at the other end of a Bluetooth low-energy connection. Key to maximizing battery life of these devices will be moving as much  of the application to the companion device - typically, but not exclusively, a smartphone.

Many of the initial products use a Bluetooth controller based on ARM Cortex-M0 technology from companies like Nordic Semiconductor and a main SoC based on the Cortex-M3 or Cortex-M4  processor. Ironically, you could argue that the main applications processor for the watch is now the Cortex-M, while the Cortex-A processor - in the phone - acts as a slave by offloading some functions from the watch. I'm just waiting for the product marketing managers of the Cortex-Mx processors inside ARM to lobby for changes to the ARM naming convention in recognition of the rising importance of their processors!

Tick-Toq

Several have argued that Qualcomm’s Toq device is largely a marketing exercise to demonstrate its MEMS-based (microelectromechanical systems) Mirasol display. While this is probably an element, the strategy to roll out a software development kit does, I believe, reflect a genuine desire to generate applications that use this platform, with a goal of fuelling a market for consumer OEMs to generate high-volume consumer platforms that use Toq as a proven starting point of what is achievable. The Toq connects to any Android 4.0.3+ device, with the watch itself running ThreadX. The “operating system” selected for the watch has been quite varied up to this point, with the range from a simple scheduler all the way to Android on the Galaxy Gear.

This space has quickly become crowded. I expect more to enter the space in the not-too-distant future. In my opinion, for the next 18 months or so, the prioritised list of requirements for the platform will be:  

  1. Battery Life: A minimum of five days between charges
  2. Fashion: These devices need to be light, thin, and flexible. Whether it is for this area or other domains, Apple’s hiring of Paul Deneve, Yves St. Laurent’s former CEO, is, I believe, recognition of the importance of electronics as a fashion statement. Likewise, Angela Ahrendts, Burberry's now-former CEO, has jumped ship to Apple in the last 24 hours
  3. Functionality: What will be key here is what functionality is run on the wearable and what functionality is run in the cloud or on the smart device connected wirelessly to the wearable
  4. Cost: In the initial phase, cost is less of an issue. Over time, I would expect this to become more important

Where do we go from here?

So as a user of technology what can you expect next? Firstly, I do believe this segment is here to stay. From the hardware perspective, I expect an increased number of sensors on these wearables. The latest iPhone 5C includes fingerprint technology which is an interesting step towards removing the need for users to remember passwords, but it is complex and relatively expensive. People’s heart rate and other vitals can be used as a unique identifier and I expect this type of functionality to be integrated into the next wave of wearables.

Secondly, I expect these wearables to become more integrated into other applications – the movement of a band or smartwatch can be used as control in games or Enterprise applications, for example. Applications that take full advantage of the integrated sensors and motion of the wearable technology will result in new immersive experiences and deliver the stickiness that ensure this wave of products become an integral part of our lives.

I hope you found that useful. Please let me know what you think. Follow me on Twitter at @Fergie_ARM.



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