Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear chips have been some of the most popular solutions for smartwatches running Google’s Wear OS software. And now Qualcomm and Google have announced they’re bringing something new to the ecosystem: RISC-V chips.
Up until now all of Qualcomm’s smartwatch chips have been based on ARM architecture, but now the company says it’s “developing a RISC-V Snapdragon Wear platform that will power next-generation Wear OS solutions.”
That’s about all we know so far, aside from the fact that Qualcomm is working with Google to make sure that the software is compatible with the upcoming chips and that Qualcomm “plans to commercialize the RISC-V based wearable solution globally.”
But it’s an interesting move, as RISC-V architecture has been gaining momentum over the past few years as an alternative to ARM, x86, and other platforms.
RISC-V is an open standard instruction set architecture (ISA) that’s available royalty-free, making it both an economical solution and a versatile one that chip designers can adapt to their own needs.
For the most part RISC-V designs aren’t as powerful as ARM processors yet. So while we’re starting to see them pop up in development boards (and even some laptops and tablets), and even as co-processors in chips where the primary processor uses a different architecture, they’re not exactly common in consumer electronics like laptops or smartphones yet. But wearables could present an interesting test case for Qualcomm and Google, as devices like smartwatches are expected to run a much smaller set of functions than general-purpose phones, tablets, or PCs.
And if things go well, who knows? Maybe we could see higher-performance RISC-V chips from Qualcomm in the future.