Qualcomm Toq First Thoughts: Has Mirasol Founds Its Market?

With all the noise in run up to IFA about the Samsung Galaxy Gear, it's important not to overlook other smartwatch developments at the show.

And for my money, perhaps the most surprising and interesting announcement was that of the Qualcomm Toq.  

Of course, we shouldn't be totally shocked since rumors had been floating for a while, but some of the features as well as the fact the product is ready to ship in October makes the Toq worth, um, talking about. 

A quick rundown of the Toq specifics

  • Mirasol display  
  • Wireless charging
  • Bluetooth
  • $300 price tag
  • Available in October
  • Limited edition

And now my quick thoughts: 

Proof of Concept

I think the Toq effort is largely a proof of concept. Qualcomm is calling Toq a "limited edition" device, which likely means they are creating a smartwatch mainly to show off their technologies (in particular Mirasol) .  If they see strong uptake they might continue to sell the device, but given the recent lack of success in consumer end-user products (MediaFLO) and the bigger opportunity as a technology provider to large CE companies, I don't see them creating their own smartwatch long term.

Maybe Mirasol Has Found a Market

The company has sunk quite a bit of money into the MEMS color e-reading screen technology called Mirasol with fairly little return to show for it. At first the company tried to offer it up as a color e-reader screen technology (with good visibility in sunlight, unlike LCDs), but they were late to the party. The low-end e-reader market was dominated by e-ink and the overall market has plateaued as tablets came in from the high end.

With smartwatches, however, Qualcomm sees a potentially big opportunity. Watches must be visible in bright light, and e-ink and Mirasol tend to show up better in direct sunlight (although Pebble does a good job with the special LCD technology developed by Sharp that it uses). The Mirasol technology combines good visibility in direct sunlight with color and a capacitive touchscreen capability, all three which make for a potentially really interesting display technology for smartwatches in my opinion.

No Snapdragon

I don't have much to say about this other than the fact I think it's interesting the company chose not to use Snapdragaon. Some upstart smartwatch companies like the Neptune Pine are using Snapdragon, but Qualcomm likely sees the chip as too much of a power drain, at least for the time being.  

Qualcomm Could Have Lots of Customers In The Wearables Space

Qualcomm has been probably the most dominant mobile radio and chipset company over the past twenty years and will likely see a number of its phone manufacturer partners creating wearable products, including smartwatches. I think the Mirasol and wireless charging technologies are pretty compelling ingredient technologies and could get some takers.

Bottom Line 

I think Qualcomm's Toq experiment was a smart one. Anytime a potentially big new addressable market like wearables starts to open up, small gambles like this (unlike MediaFLO, which was a much bigger bet in terms of money spent) make sense and could ultimately have a big payoff. 

Qualcomm Toq Promo Video