Broadcom is ready for 3G Android Wear watches, even if Google isn't

g watch r and moto360
Credit: Jason Cross

A new smartwatch chip platform from Broadcom paves the way for cellular connectivity and NFC in Android Wear, even though Google doesn’t support those features just yet. 

Broadcom’s so-called “Smartwatch Platform” is designed for Android Wear, and its system-on-a-chip supports 2G and 3G modems (no LTE, unfortunately). It also lets smartwatch makers tack on features such as GPS, NFC, and wireless charging.

However, Android Wear’s support for these featurtes is either non-existent or limited right now. The software isn’t designed around standalone cellular connectivity—there’s no built-in dialer, for instance—and very few apps support GPS tracking on the watch itself. There aren’t any watch apps that use NFC capabilities, either.

In the meantime, Broadcom is promising other benefits for its wearable chips. The platform supports wireless charging, which makes nightly recharging easier by letting you plop the watch on a stand. (Motorola’s Moto 360 already offers wireless charging, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.) Broadcom also claims a 40 percent improvement in power efficiency over previous chips, allowing watch makers to either create slimmer designs or longer-lasting hardware.

Broadcom is sending out samples of the chips now, so presumably we’ll start to see them in smartwatches later this year.

Why this matters: There’s somewhat of a chicken-and-egg situation at play here, as it doesn’t make much sense for Android Wear to support cellular connectivity and NFC if the hardware doesn’t exist. By supporting these features early, Broadcom is letting watch makers future-proof their wares, and perhaps nudging Google to add support in Android Wear sooner rather than later.

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