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15 Years of Smartwatch Evolution

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At Teardown.com we have done nearly 2,000 teardowns over the past 15 years, infact some of our earliest were Smartwatches. As we recently expanded our medical device teardown program to include the rapidly growing wearable “Internet of Things” space – once again smartwatches are of particular interest.

The smartwatch is not a new trend, we were tearing them down in early 2000 when Casio ruled the "smartwatch" category (see Image 1), with its trio of watches the WMP1, WPV1 and BIZX HBX-100. At the time these showed extreme promise as the devices of the future and promised to untether us from our desktop computers, as such Teardown.com tore down two out of three of these devices in our research.

Image 1: Casio’s WMP1, WPV1 and the BIZX HBX-100

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

With this trio of smartwatches Casio offered early adopters access to features like PDA, pc connectivity, built in camera technology, and music right on your wrist. Specifications for these devices included things like 32MB of memory for up to 30 minutes of music or a 28,000-pixel monochrome CMOS image sensor. While far from the technology seen on hips, wrists or ears today these were truly groundbreaking devices in the 20th Century. Yet, the demand and sales volumes for the devices originally priced between $150-350 never really materialized. It is worth noting that the watches above now sell for $200-1,000 on eBay as collectors’ items.

So why if this market kicked off over 15 years ago, why will it last now? We believe vendors and start-ups have access to chipsets and tools to design and manufacture truly innovative devices that provide a return (and value) when used. From a social aspect, in 2013, the terms Internet of Things and Quantified Self became mainstream in the technology industry and the products being produced under these monikers have quickly found a foothold in mainstream society. Innovation in this segment has also been boosted by Kickstarter campaigns which provide unprecedented crowd funding (see Pebble’s story). From a technology Teardown perspective, our Wearable and Wellness research focuses on key IoT developments in Health and Connectivity.

Our vantage point for these devices comes specifically from the aspect of the incorporation of technology, and a healthy mix of cutting edge and proven is required to both product dependable results, but also at price points that will attract a potentially broad user base. With that in mind we will compare four teardowns we’ve done over the past year. This blog discloses some of the key technology design wins and technologies we have documented in our wearable teardowns of four leading smartwatches, these include the Basis Science (now part of Intel) Carbon Steel Ed. B1, Pebble’s PebbleWatch, Qualcomm’s Toq, and the Samsung Galaxy Gear. It is interesting to note all four smartwatches use the STMicroelectronics ARM 32-Bit Cortex Microcontroller and have standardized on a Lithium Polymer battery module.

Figure 1 compares the four devices with the STMicrodevices M3 or M4 MCU, Frequency, Built in Flash, Built in SRAM, Package Pin count, cost of IC, Model MCU and Package size.

Figure 1: STMicroelectronics ARM 32-Bit Cortex MCU M3 or M4

Teardown Smartwatches Chart

At Teardown.com we see a bright future for wearables. In our research and discussions with technology research firms and the analyst community there is consensus that the value these devices bring to our connected lifestyles is unmistakable. Moreover the benefits of monitoring our personal data in a real time way to improve our lifestyle, health, and relationships, provide real value to the user. Something an APP just can’t do as easily. We’ll continue to teardown innovative product that reach the market and look at the evolving technologies and systems that are being used. You can follow our progress at http://www.techinsights.com/teardown.com/teardown-wearable-wellness-tech/  

Our Teardowns: A Quick Comparison

The Basis Carbon Steel (release date 1/3/2014), it has the most features, including recording heart rate, skin temperature, ambient temperature, walking/running movements and sweat levels. The sensors for the Basis are located on the bottom, they include optical blood (heart rate), 3-Axis Accelerometer (body movements), Perspiration Monitor (workout intensity) and Skin Temperature (exertion levels). Collected data can be transferred using Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR or USB port to a computer or laptop for uploading to the Basis server.

Image 2: Basis Science Carbon Steel B1

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

The Qualcomm Toq Smartwatch (release date 12/02/2013) is an interesting wearable and is a showcase for Qualcomm’s Mirasol display technology. The Toq pairs to an Android or IOS smartphone via a Bluetooth, receiving notifications and applet content. The Toq’s touchscreen offers to save power by utilizing front-light illumination display technology. Other features include vibrational alerts, airplane mode, and stereo bluetooth audio. Recharging is done via Qualcomm's Wipower LE wireless inductive charger.

Image 3: Qualcomm TOQ

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

The Samsung Galaxy Gear (release date 9/15/2014) uses an AMOLED display and touchscreen. This technology is also preferred in Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone products. The phone was the first to be introduced with Google’s Android 4.1.2 "Jelly Bean" operating system on an 800 MHz single-core Samsung Exynos 3 processor with 512MB RAM. Other features include two microphones, speaker, and a 1.9MP BSI CMOS camera with 720p HD video recording capability.

Sensors include a 6-axis MEMS gyroscope and accelerometer. Connectivity is provided by Bluetooth Smart 4.0 and NFC. Featured apps include Atooma, which enables the connection of software and hardware sensors on the Galaxy Gear with hardware sensors on other smart devices to create context-specific operating instructions; Banjo, a social discovery app; Evernote, for capturing images, taking notes, and syncing files across devices; and Glympse, a real-time location app.

Image 4: Samsung Galaxy Gear

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

The PebbleWatch(release date 1/23/2013) originated from a Kickstarter Campaign. It can be argued that the Pebble reignited this nascent market and the interest of billions. It communicates via Bluetooth 4.0 low Energy with most iOS or Android-based devices. The display is made from e-Ink imaging film to deliver ultra-low-power performance. The Pebble will notify you of messages such as incoming caller ID, email, SMS (text messages), iMessage (IOS only), calendar alerts, Facebook/Twitter messages, and weather alerts. Sensors include a 3-axis MEMS accelerometer with gesture detection, 3-axis digital magnetometer, and ambient light sensor.

Image 5: Pebble PebbleWatch

Teardown Blog Smartwatches

From a design win perspective Suppliers that offer greater chip integration of connectivity as well as low power computing solutions will be best positioned as key suppliers to the Smart Watch market. These include Qualcomm, STMicroelectronics, and TI all of which have a stake in these products. Emergent technologies such as flexible substrates and displays will undoubtedly find a home in this market for obvious reasons.”