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New wave of Apple Watch 6 rivals will be able to make video calls

(Image credit: Future)

We're this much closer to a real Dick Tracy smartwatch. Qualcomm today unveiled its latest smartwatch processor, the Snapdragon Wear 4100 chip, which promises improved performance and battery life, as well as support for new sensors, such as a built-in camera. It could put future Wear OS smartwatches ahead of the Apple Watch 6 — at least in terms of performance. 

The Snapdragon Wear 4100 chip represents a big jump over the current Wear OS CPU of choice, the Snapdragon 3100. Qualcomm said that the 4100 would provide up to 85 percent higher performance, as well as 25 percent better battery life, over the current processor.

Qualcomm is actually shipping two versions, the Snapdragon Wear 4100+, and the Snapdragon Wear 4100. Similar to the Snapdragon 3100, the Wear 4100+ uses a dual-processor setup, where the main chip handles the heavy lifting, while a co-processor takes care of less power-intensive tasks, such as an ambient display and continuous heart rate monitoring. Both chips use a 12-nm design, much smaller than the 28-nm design of the Snapdragon 3100.  

The main processor is a quad-core Cortex A53, with a clock speed of 1.7GHz. In addition to its faster speeds, the ability to download maps to the device, it can also support features such as cameras up to 16MP; that's a feature we haven't seen on a name-brand smartwatch since the Samsung Galaxy Gear 2.

This co-processor for the Wear 4100 + — the QCC1110 — has been beefed up, so that it can handle features that were once designated for the primary processor, such as the aforementioned heart rate monitor, sleep-tracking, location-tracking, and Bluetooth 5.0. The new chip will also support up to 64,000 colors, a huge jump from the mere 16 colors supported on the Wear 3100 processor. That means a much more colorful display, even in ambient mode, for future Wear OS smartwatches. 

(Image credit: Qualcomm)

The Snapdragon Wear 4100+ will have both the main processor and the co-processor, while the Snapdragon Wear 4100 will have just the main processor, for smartwatch makers who don't plan on incorporating an ambient mode into their devices.

Qualcomm is currently shipping the Wear 4100, and it will debut in the Imoo Z6 Ultra, a smartwatch made for kids, and the Mobvoi Tic Watch Pro 3. However, Qualcomm said that it will continue to sell the older 3100 chip alongside the 4100 for the time being. 

While it will be interesting to see how well the Wear 4100 chip performs, its ultimate success rides more on Google being able to update the Wear OS platform and make it more attractive to consumers. There are dozens upon dozens of Wear OS smartwatches, but aside from their physical design, there's little to distinguish one from another. 

Currently, Apple and Samsung dominate smartwatch sales, according to Strategy Analytics, with Garmin in third place. Together, they account for 77 percent of the market — and none of them use Wear OS.