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Qualcomm bets more kids will wear smartwatches

That's why it's created new technology, the Snapdragon Wear 2500 Platform, to help companies build watches for children.

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Wearables for children, like the Alcatel CareTime kid's smartwatch, have become popular in China.
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Qualcomm is betting more kids will soon be sporting smartwatches.

The San Diego chipmaker on Tuesday in Shanghai (Wednesday, China time) unveiled its new Snapdragon Wear 2500 Platform to help make watches geared toward kids. Yes, that's right. Smartwatches for children.

Qualcomm makes chips for everything from smartphones to Windows 10 tablet-laptop hybrids. While it already provides processors for wearables, it sees big opportunity in tailoring its technology for the fast-growing kid smartwatch market. The Snapdragon Wear 2500 integrates 4G LTE connectivity alongside everything a device maker needs to release watches aimed at children.

"We see this as one of the high-growth categories," Anthony Murray, senior vice president and general manager for Qualcomm's voice, music and wearables business, said in an interview ahead of the announcement. "We can see interest proliferating around the world."

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The wearables market hasn't quite boomed like many in tech expected. People largely use their devices for notifications and fitness tracking, and it's hard for many vendors -- even Samsung -- to compete with Apple and its popular Apple Watch. Last year, about 31 percent of all smartwatches shipped around the world came from Apple, according to CCS Insights (Apple doesn't detail how many Apple Watches it sells).

But there's one area of smartwatches outside Apple that's really soaring -- kid watches. The market is so huge, in fact, that smartwatches for children make up nearly half of the total global smartwatch market, according to CCS Insight.

"If you take Apple out of the picture, the broader wearables market is somewhat muted," CCS Insights analyst Geoff Blaber said. "But the child trackers market is seeing extraordinary growth."

In 2015, only 6.6 million of the 22.5 million smartwatches shipped in the world were aimed at children, CCS said. By 2017, that soared to 25.6 million, half the total market. Apple, by comparison, shipped 16 million smartwatches last year, the firm estimated. This year, companies should ship 31.5 million child trackers, while CCS expects Apple to ship 22 million Apple Watches.

Child smartwatches primarily started as a way for parents to keep in touch with their kids. Once vendors added GPS, they were more trackers than smart wearables. Over time, smartwatch makers packed in more features to do things like monitor fitness, take photos, and even access certain apps and games.

Such devices haven't really taken off in the US, but they're booming in China. Of the 32 million smartwatches CCS Insight expects vendors to ship this year, 30 million will be in China.

"It makes perfect sense for Qualcomm to do something that's optimized," CCS Insight's Blaber said.

Specialized Snapdragon

Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2500 Platform embeds 4G LTE connectivity alongside a quad-core A7 processor, power management, charger, fuel gauge and haptics driver functionality. It has an integrated sensor sub with pre-optimized algorithms and low power location tracking.

The Snapdragon Wear 2500 supports a 5MP camera, lets the watchmaker integrate voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant and includes NFC to let kids make payments from their watches or tap their digital transit cards. It also supports gesture-based gaming and entertainment apps and can track physical activity.

Snapdragon Wear 2500 includes a tailored version of Android specifically for kid watches that's based on last year's Android O. It fits in a 512MB memory footprint and is designed to consume low amounts of power by shutting off capabilities that aren't needed, as well as adds kid watch-specific features.

A key focus for Snapdragon 2500 is battery life. The devices should last about four days on a single charge, about double the normal range for traditional smartwatches, Murray said.

There already are 10 devices on the market that use Qualcomm's previous smartwatch technology. Huawei plans to build the first smartwatch based off Snapdragon Wear 2500 because of the technology's "outstanding power-efficiency, 4G connectivity, smart sensing, and location capabilities," the Chinese company said in a statement.

Chips for cheaper phones

Along with the Snapdragon 2500 announcement, Qualcomm on Tuesday unveiled three new processors for mid-range smartphones, the Snapdragon 632, 439 and 429. Unlike its Snapdragon 800 line of chips that are aimed at the pricest, flashiest devices -- like Samsung's Galaxy S9 -- the features in the 600 and 400 lines are tailored for more affordable devices.

Qualcomm said its new chips "are engineered to bring higher performance, better battery life, more efficient designs, impressive graphics and artificial intelligence" -- features typically only found in high-end phones -- into those less expensive devices.

The Snapdragon 632 has 40 percent higher performance than its predecessors, the Snapdragon 625 and 626 chips, and it includes Qualcomm's ultrafast X9 LTE Advanced modem. Device makers will be able to pack 4K video capture, AI, gaming and dual cameras at 13MP each into their phones.

The Snapdragon 439 and 429, geared at even cheaper phones, will let handset makers provide AI to enhance the camera, voice capabilities and security of the devices. They improve performance and power efficiency by 25 percent over their predecessors and feature the X6 LTE modem, which is slower than the LTE modem in the Snapdragon 632.

Handset vendors have announced more than 1,350 devices based on the Snapdragon 600-tier of chips and more than 2,300 devices based on the Snapdragon 400-tier. The first devices using the chips should launch in the second half of 2018.   

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