The wearable device market is quite rightly a hot topic at present with many vendors exploring disparate approaches for extending the mobile experience. The level of interest and debate being applied to each of the vendors’ product strategy is naturally high as the market is forecasted to grow according IMS research from 96 million devices that were shipped in 2012 to over 210M by 2018.
Within ARM we also track the market direction and at present we have observed more than 80 ARM powered designs, including some notable solutions from innovators such as Pebble and Omate impact the market. Broadly speaking the current crop of wearable products fall into three main categories of
- Infotainment (Watches, Glasses)
- Fitness/Lifestyle (sports monitors, heart rate etc)
- Healthcare (continuous patent monitoring etc)
Whilst they differ in their usage, there are a couple of key attributes that all successful devices have in common in their DNA.
Firstly, power is paramount, smartphones devices lasting multiple days without a re-charge have set consumer expectations, but the leading wearables take this up a notch. Around a week between charges is common, or even 1 year in the case of the Garmin Forerunner 610.
The route to delivering the best low power, solution in silicon is high levels of integration, where the radio and sensory technology along with a processing capability matched to the workload required are on a single chip. Today the compute cores of choice have been the Cortex-M series that can fit in cross section of a human hair and scale up as appropriate to include Cortex-A solutions for running rich operating systems.
The flip side of high power consumption is reduced battery life and notable warming of the device. Both of these will be unacceptable to the end user. This brings us to the second key attribute; Integration.
Integration of the three essential ingredients onto a single SoC usually outweighs the approach of chasing a leading edge process node for one chip with the resultant need to have off chip radios, MEMS sensors or memory, but as we say at ARM, ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. But not all of our competitors have the same philosophy.
Intel’s Quark is an example that has a relatively low level of integration, but has still been positioned as a solution for wearables. Fine you may think, there are plenty of ARM powered communication chipsets it could be paired with, but a quick examination of the development board brings the applicability further into question. Quark runs at a rather surprising, and sizzling to the touch, 57°C. The one attribute it does offer is a cognitive awareness, not through any hardware integration suitable for the wearable market, but from the inbuilt thermal management hardware (complete with example code), which in the attached video you can see is being used to toggle a light switch once touched by a finger which, acting as a heat sync, drops the temperature below 50°C.
Not quite the low power and high integration DNA needed to add to the expanding list of exciting devices I expect to see this year