Samsung gears up for smartwatch launch

Tuesday 03 September 2013 12.06
Will new Samsung smartwatch be the dawn of a new age in consumer electronics - image from Venture Beat
Will new Samsung smartwatch be the dawn of a new age in consumer electronics - image from Venture Beat

Niall Kitson asks will it be a case of right place, right time for the Galaxy Gear?

Samsung will reveal its Galaxy Gear smartwatch on September 4 at an event in Berlin. Will this be the dawn of a new age in consumer electronics or just 'tech for tech sake' appealing only as a niche device. Let's face it, smartphones are de rigueur, while Google Glass is too outlandish to be a must have so there is a space in wearable tech to fill.

Will the Gear play it safe or will it give consumers something novel and affordable? Thanks to a leaked image on tech news website VentureBeat we know what it looks like, but there is lots more to find out. Here’s what we want to know.

Will it stand alone?

The smartwatch as we know it is a clunky device with a large screen and a display that would be just peachy for a Casio calculator watch from the 1980s - no more than a clunky message notification peripheral for smartphones.

Let's take a look at the market to see what's out there. Sony's SmartWatch embodies all these values - small display, connects to a smart phone by Bluetooth, displays messages from social networks, texts and missed calls and is powered by Android (so it has an app store). It's a boring, largely superfluous gadget.

The Gear is starting at a low base but has a lot of work to sell itself. The best way out is for it to be a device that doesn’t need a handset to make it useful. Either way, it will run Android, so we know it will be compatible with a large number of apps from day one.

Will it have a SIM?

Samsung should take a lesson from Amazon's Kindle, put a SIM card in it and absorb the cost of data. If the Gear is to have any message notification features it shouldn't be reliant on a smartphone to receive them. Using a 3G connection would make the Gear useful without something more interesting to tether it to.

What will it be made of?

Ruggedised rubber and plastic or sleek stainless steel and Gorilla Glass? The leaked VentureBeat picture suggests a bit of both. Other mock-ups showed a curved screen and metal wristbands but if this is the shape of things to come there won't be many complaints. What we don't know much about is the user interface.

Who is it for?

The biggest application of wearable technology we've seen so far is in the health and fitness. Building in apps like a pedometer, activity manager and sleep monitor in an attractive package should win over an audience that may not want to bring their smartphone to the treadmill. Early adopters will say the Pebble with its three-axis accelerometer, speedometer and media controls is the player to beat.

How much?

Two schools of thought on this: charge what the market expects or charge what you think the product is worth. Apple always goes for the latter and it's a strategy that hasn't failed them, yet. Samsung would do well in having a look around to see what the going rate is. Offerings from Sony, Nike and Pebble average $130 (€100). If that's what the market can bear then Samsung would want to have a heck of a product lined up to charge more.

Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie