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Broadcom, TI try adding more charge to smartwatch batteries

The chipmakers both unveil new platforms to help smaller devices last a little longer.

Smartwatches -- like this Samsung Gear S -- can be a helpful tool, but not when their batteries run out. Sarah Tew/CNET

A major gripe about smartwatches is that the battery on most devices lasts only about a day.

Looking to address that problem, both Broadcom and Texas Instruments unveiled new platforms for their chips on Wednesday that are designed to help smartwatches and other small devices sip power instead of chug it.

"The end result is better battery life for a consumer," said Brian Bedrosian, a Broadcom marketing director. "They don't have to plug it in as often, they can be more interactive with the device."

Both platforms, announced in time for an embedded-devices conference in Germany, could help the young smartwatch market get closer to reaching the mainstream, with far more consumers interested in buying the devices if they have to plug them in only every now and then. The wearables market, which includes fitness bands and headsets, is expected to take off in a big way, reaching nearly 112 million devices shipped by 2018, up from an estimated 19 million last year, according to an April report from researcher IDC. Though the market may not grow that fast if the battery issue doesn't improve.

Broadcom claims that its new platform for its existing smartwatch chips cuts back on battery use enough to get a smartwatch that today can work up to two days to last about twice as long.

Meanwhile, TI says its new platform could let a smartwatch last several weeks, according to Oyvind Birkenes, a company general manager. The platform also lets TI create wearable chips that are even smaller than before and don't need as big a battery, so they could potentially be used as tiny sensors in clothes.

TI and Broadcom attributed these battery-life improvements to getting chips to work more efficiently together. For instance, the platforms push more-simple jobs needed to run a smartwatch -- such as quickly checking the time -- to smaller processors inside a device, instead of the more powerful but also more energy-hungry application processor.

The TI platform is going into mass production Wednesday and is already finding its way into new products, such as remote controls. The Broadcom platform is now being sampled with some of the company's customers and may find its way into devices for sale later this year.