SciTechTalk: Tech companies bet big on hoped-for smartwatch success

By JIM ALGAR, United Press International
Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Credit: Samsung
1 of 2 | Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Credit: Samsung

Korean technology giant Samsung, hoping to steal a march on rival Apple, has thrown the dice and is betting big on what it hopes will be the next "must have" bit of technological kit -- the smartwatch.

Earlier this month it introduced its Galaxy Gear watch, a bit of wearable computing technology that will give users access to many of the functions of the smartphone while leaving said device in a pocket.


The $299 Gear watch, by way of its 1.63-inch screen, will alert users to calls, texts and emails received by their phones. It will also take pictures with its built-in 1.9 megapixel camera and offer some simple Web browsing capabilities.

Oh, and you can make a phone call with it; we may begin to see people walking down the streets talking into their wrists a la Dick Tracy.


Samsung is not alone in thinking the smartwatch is a technological idea whose time has come; Sony, Qualcomm, and Pebble already offer their own takes on a wearable computer, and Google and Microsoft are expected to market smartwatches soon.

And then there's Apple, whose iPhones and iPads have dominated -- some would say almost created -- the modern smartphone and tablet computer markets.

They're reportedly working on a smartwatch, and no doubt hope to have the same level of success -- a likely reason Samsung decided to get in first, analysts said.

"Samsung has a history of latching on to the latest trends and throwing a product into the market to try and get ahead of potential rivals," Ben Wood of CCS Insights said.

Technology companies have good reason to hope the smartwatch catches consumers' eyes -- and their wallets. PC sales are flat; smartphone market saturation is peaking, and competition in the tablet arena is cutthroat with resultant thin profit margins.

While smartwatches have been around for several years, they have failed so far to garner much consumer interest, but Samsung apparently believes that can change.

For inspiration it need look no further than rival Apple and its iPad. Tablets had been around for a while, attracting only lukewarm consumer response, when Apple unveiled its iPad. It sold like hotcakes and pulled the entire tablet market up by its bootstraps.


Samsung is no doubt hoping its Gear watch will do the same for the smartwatch.

But some analysts aren't sure it has quite hit the target. For one thing, it will only "talk" to Samsung's own Galaxy Android devices, which could limit its appeal. Sony, by contrast, offers a smartwatch that can be paired with any device running Android 4.0 or higher.

"The watch is smart, but not as smart as it could be," Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said of the Samsung offering. "It doesn't look like Samsung pushed the envelope as much as I hope Apple will. Right now, it looks like [Gear] will just provide you with an extra screen that is more convenient to look at than to have to take out a larger device. I don't think that's what consumers want."

What consumers will get is yet another electronic device that requires charging, and Samsung says the Gear can give just one full day of use before needing to the recharged.

Used to wristwatches that can tick away happily for months or even years, consumers may balk at a device that has to be connected to a charger nightly, next to the smartphone and tablet.


Smartwatches could be a huge -- and hugely profitable -- new technology, or could fail to rise above niche status, something seen only on the geekiest of wrists.

One thing is sure: Samsung won't be the only company watching the outcome closely.

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