Samsung has announced the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Costing $299, the Gear goes on sale in October in the US, and will be available in 147 countries by year end.
It requires a compatible smartphone or tablet device to work. Initially, just the new Galaxy Note 3 smartphone and Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be compatible, but Samsung plans to roll out software updates for the Galaxy S4, SIII, and Note II.
The Galaxy Gear offers the following features:
- Hands free phone calling with S Voice.
- Notifications for messages, voice calls, and from compatible smartphone apps.
- Compatibility with 70 apps initially. Featured apps include: Atooma; Banjo; ChatON; Evernote; Glympse; eBay; LINE; MyFitnessPal; Path; Pocket; RunKeeper; TripIt; and Vivino Wine Scanner.
- 1.9 megapixel autofocus camera.
- Audio/music and video playback and recording.
- 4GB storage, 512MB RAM & a 800MHz processor. These are similar specifications to current entry level Android smartphones.
- 1.63 inch full colour Super AMOLED display with 320x320 pixel resolution.
- Claimed battery life of 25 hours, or about a day, but requires a proprietary charging jacket.
- 2 microphones, accelerometer and a gyroscope. The Gear includes a built-in step counter app.
- Automatic smartphone lock if the Gear is not close to the paired smartphone.
The Galaxy Gear is a statement of intent by Samsung that if the smartwatch category is to prove successful, then Samsung will be one of the winners. It is a member of the burgeoning "smart accessory" category for smartphone peripherals that IHS identified as a key mobile theme at the start of this year.
Samsung has done an outstanding job securing a wide range of apps for the Galaxy Gear launch. It is this content that transforms a watch into a smartwatch. Consumers will not buy a smartwatch over a regular watch simply to tell the time - they cost too much - just as no one chooses a smartphone over a lower cost feature phone just to make phone calls. Smart devices are all about the apps.
But this initial Galaxy Gear model has many weaknesses that make it in effect an experimental prototype masquerading as a commercial product. Notably, it is bulky, has a high price, battery life is poor, and there's very limited compatibility with smartphone models. All of these drawbacks will limit the addressable market and the proportion of that audience that will choose to buy this version one Galaxy Gear. Samsung has the luxury of being able to afford to experiment with smartwatches and place risky bets because it is so successful with other product lines.
The mix of features in the Galaxy Gear is quite curious. It has communication-centric features such as notifications, which mimic the path Sony has taken with its smartwatch range, but Samsung has added full telephony support to the Gear which Sony omits.
Samsung's Gear also includes health and wellbeing capabilities using hardware sensors, which Sony has not included, but the Gear stops short of replicating the rich capability of a dedicated health watch such as the Basis as it has no perspiration or heart rate monitor.
Perhaps most unusual is Samsung's inclusion and placement of a camera which is built into the proprietary wristband and faces outwards. This position makes the camera unsuited for video calling and instead it's optimised for recording the owner's surroundings or scanning objects such as wine bottle labels. The drawback from the camera is that imaging, especially video recording, increases load on the Gear's modest sized 315mAh battery and means that owners cannot alter the Gear's wristband to any standard watch strap (which is possible with the Pebble smartwatch). Consumers must choose their preferred style up front when they buy the Gear.
Every smartwatch maker is including a different combination of communication, health, entertainment and utility features. Everyone is making different trade-offs in their smartwatch product designs to fit different product visions. This highlights quite how immature the smartwatch category is and how much smartwatches must evolve before they will enjoy mainstream success.
The Gear's 70 initial apps range across all content categories illustrating both the flexibility of the Galaxy Gear as well as the extent to which Samsung is throwing large numbers of features and experiences into the Gear in order to see which ones actually appeal to consumers.
IHS believes that Samsung will need to iterate the Galaxy Gear design to be successful with smartwatches. The next Galaxy Gear needs better battery life, a lower price, and a more focused product design. Given Samsung's scale and product strategy to date, IHS thinks it possible that future Gear products become more focused on particular uses, for example into communications-focused smartwatches and health and fitness smartwatches.
Samsung should copy Sony's lens-style camera strategy and make the Gear compatible with other smartphone makers' Android handsets because this will widen the audience and make it more likely retailers and mobile operators will stock the device.
Samsung is aiming to build a collection of compatible devices tied back to Samsung's own app store and content services to drive future customer retention. Galaxy Gear is a part of this broader strategy to establish Samsung as at the heart of consumers' digital lives. As such this initial Gear is an important diversification step for Samsung, but there is much work to do with future Gear models to transform Gear smartwatches into compelling products.