ABI Research teardowns of more than a dozen smartwatches now on the market reveal that some models use processors originally designed for smartphones or tablets while none have specially-developed processors for smartwatches.
The end result is less-than-optimal battery life and larger processors that cost consumers far more than they should, ABI said. Some smartwatches on the market can cost upwards of $300 and battery power has been so poor that owners are not using them.
The reason for using oversized or older, adapted processors is that smartwatch makers are not sure whether the young smartwatch market will take off. If it does, ABI expects more optimal chips to be developed and manufactured at lower costs, with lower drain on batteries.
"No one that we've seen has put together an optimized smartwatch chipset," said Jim Mielke, vice president of engineering at ABI. "Some of the processors are decent, but not optimized. They are waiting to see if the market takes off."
Mielke said it is common for manufacturers to use older processors for newer devices. "It happens all the time in new markets since everyone wants to get in and will rebrand the chips -- so it's not uncommon," he said.
Mielke said he is still waiting to evaluate some of the latest smartwatches such as the Moto 360 and the Samsung Gear 2. But ABI found that the original Samsung Gear used a smartphone processor, while the Z-watch from Smart Q actually uses a tablet chip that was re-released and rebranded for the smartwatch.
The uWatch made by UWatch incorporates the complete GPRS SoC (System on a Chip) known as the MediaTek MT6260, but it only takes advantage of the BlueTooth functionality, ABI said.
In some cases, smartwatches such as those by Sony and the Pebble use what Mielke called "discreet" processors. They are still physically large in size and somewhat higher in cost than necessary, and not truly optimized.
Mielke warned that some of the claims by manufacturers that they have launched new chips optimized for wearable computing are "misleading at best...."
It isn't clear how big the smartwatch market needs to be before better chip designs emerge, but not doing so could also thwart market opportunities, ABI said.
"Rushing to market with adapted components can be both wasteful and often power inefficient, compromising the user experience of wearable devices," added Nick Spencer, an ABI analyst, in a statement. "Short battery life is one of the main reasons that wearables are often ending up unused in a drawer."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.