Earlier today, the Qualcomm Toq was announced by Qualcomm’s CEO Dr. Paul E. Jacobs at Uplinq, and we managed to grab the Toq that Rob Chandhok (Qualcomm SVP) had with him. As you can see, the smart watch design is slightly big, just like other products in this category. At the moment, there is no way around this since the technology is getting just small and low-power enough to enable this type of form factor in any efficient way. There were smart watches before obviously, but this year, we are going to see a discontinuity in terms of usage model for these devices.
The most interesting thing about the Toq is that it has an always-on screen. This is made possible by Mirasol, an ultra-low power display technology that Qualcomm has been working on for years. But after a fairly unsuccessful attempt at breaking into the color eBook market, Qualcomm may have found an area where Mirasol can add a lot more value than that other display technology, not because it is visually “the best”, but because it is good enough and extremely low power."AFTER YEARS OF SOUL SEARCHING MIRASOL MAY HAVE FOUND THE IDEAL MARKET"
And that works great for smart watches because people don’t look at them all the time, and obviously don’t watch movies on them. People tend to “glance” at their watches, just enough to get a relevant information. The added value of a smartwatch is that you don’t need to pull your smartphone out of your pocket, or even turn it on. Provided that a user could read meaningful information without having to turn his/her smart watch on, there is genuine add-value. This is what Toq is about.
Battery life: nobody likes to charge a watch
Mirasol also has a huge impact on battery life. Since it doesn’t consume power when pixels aren’t changing, its battery can last for “days”. This is very different from brand new Galaxy Gear, which has a 24hrs battery life (best case scenario?). From what we understand the Toq could stay up between a few days to a week, depending on your model usage.
The integration of wireless charging was inevitable. Even with wireless charging, it is difficult to get used to charging your watch on a regular basis, so a micro-USB connector would have been a disaster. Everybody the wearable tech space understand that well.
Inspirational device, rather than a consumer product
Without using it for a while, it’s hard to understand how useful and convenient it really is. At the moment, Qualcomm considers Toq to be an inspirational product at best, and unless there is a huge surprise in consumer interest, Qualcomm’s goal is to inspire early adapters, developers and even OEMs. Rob Chandhok said that there are great companies that could design and build a similar product, and Qualcomm is ready to help them of course.
And that’s what Toq is really about: a large scale demo to show how an always-on screen is extremely important to the wearable tech industry. If Qualcomm is right about this, it could promote many of its technologies like Mirasol, but also AllJoyn and down the road, its communications chips. At the moment, this is not about the chips yet. In fact, Toq doesn’t use a Qualcomm processor. Instead, it uses an off-the-shelve low power ARM processor (don’t expect a 60FPS user interface, it’s a bit sluggish). Today, it is about proving that the market is ready for wearable devices.
Many people were wondering if Toq would be available outside the USA. While Qualcomm did not rule this out, there are no plans to expand beyond the U.S market at this point. If you do manage to procure one, it will work since it uses Bluetooth, which works the same everywhere.
In the short term, the price will remain the most difficult part. While many people wouldn’t mind trying, a price tag of around $300 could be an obstacle, at least until there is a clear usage model. Of course, this is the initial stage of this technology, and it is just about certain that prices will fall was technology evolve and technology advances. In the end, I really think that the design of those devices will ultimately be more important than their underlying technologies.
What do you think? Would you prefer an always-on screen, or would you rather push a button and charge more often to get a better image quality? What would you want your smart watch to do?
Disclosure: we are at Uplinq as part of a press group for which the transportation and lodging was arranged for by Qualcomm. Most media outlets don’t disclose this type of information but for transparency reasons, we always mention trips paid by a 3rd party in our travel policy page and in the articles resulting from the travel.