ARM set to build wearable design centre in Taiwan

In a move that should surprise no one, ARM, the company that provides internal processors for some 90 per cent of all smartphones, has announced that it’s going to be developing its own brand of hardware for wearables too and to facilitate that, it’s building a new design centre in Taiwan to focus on the tech trend.

“The wearables aren’t just about consumers and entertainment. We are also seeing trends in professional marketplace and there are tremendous opportunities in medical, security, logistics and buildings,” Noel Hurley, deputy general manager of ARM’s CPU Group said (via WSJ).

Similarly to Qualcomm, which recently announced it’s own intentions to enter the wearables market after a long period of strong mobile sector sales, ARM has a long term pedigree of being the world’s most prolific mobile chip maker, even beating out long standing CPU manufacturers like AMD, Intel and IBM. That means that when it does enter the wearable market with a product specifically designed for it – which if it’s just beginning research and development could take some time – it stands a real chance of shaking up the market.

Underclocked, undervolted ARM chips can currently be found in many wearable devices.

Underclocked, undervolted ARM mobile chips can currently be found in many wearable devices.

The new design centre being built by ARM will be located in Taiwan’s Hsinchu county and is expected to take on 40-50 employees initially, with plans to begin operation by the end of this year. That means that we may not see an ARM wearable chip until well into 2015.

While some might see that as far too late, the wearable market still has a lot of growing to do. At the moment there’s a few million wearable devices out in the wild, but that is expected to increase to 100 million by 2016. Some sources also predict that by 2018, the industry as a whole could be worth almost $20 billion. As it stands, it’s worth around $1.4 billion.

What we’ll hope to see from ARM hardware when it does arrive, is something akin to its mobile trend setter chips: low power draws, but high performance. These are areas that wearables need the most development, because at the moment even the most powerful ones don’t come close to smartphone levels of performance and their batteries tend to last at best, a couple of days. The less functional ones can last a lot longer than that, but if you want regular sensor tracking and perhaps a display thrown into the mix, it all gets very power hungry which drains the tiny internal battery pretty quickly.

Wearable makers in the mean time will likely continue to push for alternative charging solutions. One suggestion has been to use a person’s body heat to continually charge the wearable battery, thereby extending its life per-charge.