Samsung today will open the doors to what's expected to be a new market segment. At the IFA trade show in Berlin beginning this week and a press event in New York Sept. 4, it plans to show off a smartwatch. Samsung executive Lee Yong-hee told the Korea Times Aug. 26 that the watch will be called Galaxy Gear and it will "lead a new trend in smart mobile communications" and add "meaningful momentum" to the mobile industry.
With Apple expected to also release a watch product soon, it seems we are at a moment like the one just ahead of the iPad's introduction. While "tablets" existed at that time, Apple reimagined the form factor and near-instantly birthed an enormous market where before none existed.
Writing about Google Glass in the Sept. 1 New York Times Magazine, Clive Thompson quoted Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, who told him, "This is not a reshaping of the cellphone. This is an entirely new thing."
The smartwatch, too, may prove to be an entirely new thing—even if on the level of the iPod reimagining the portable music player, rather than Glass giving us something brand new to consider (or wear). The question is whether it will be Samsung that wows us and shakes up our worlds, or if it will be Apple or another brand. (Google is said to be also working on a watch, as well as an app store for Glass, which is when Glass will be available to everyone.)
Tech blog Venture Beat reported Sept. 1 that it was given a peek at a prototype of the Samsung watch and shown a promotional video.
"Health and fitness junkies will be intrigued," wrote Christina Farr. "My initial impression was that it's a new wearable fitness device to rival a Nike Fuelband or Fitbit Flex—a smartphone companion rather than a smartphone alternative."
Farr said it features a display that's approximately 3 inches on the diameter and has "square, large bezels on the top and bottom" that give it a "chunky, rectangular shape, with rounded corners."
(It must be said, it's hard to imagine Apple introducing a product that anyone would describe as chunky.)
The watch has Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity and can connect to all Galaxy S devices. Whether it's limited to those devices, Farr wasn't sure, and she didn't see it send email, though she reports that it's capable of it.
And still the specs continue. It has a 4-megapixel camera built into the strap and speakers in its clasp. Samsung's S Voice, for making voice commands, is included, social media is integrated, the battery lasts 10-plus hours, users can view photos in a gallery, and a swipe function wakes the watch.
Further threatening Nike's FuelBand empire, the Samsung watch can track health data, such as a user's heart rate or the number of steps taken in a day, it can help users plan the perfect workout, per Farr, and it lets users keep track of their food intake and calories via an app that offers nutritional information based on photos the user takes.
(AT&T showed off something similar at an AT&T Labs Innovation Showcase in April.)
On the record, Samsung has only said that the watch won't feature a flexible display, though devices featuring that technology are in the works.
Juniper Research expects nearly 15 million wearable devices to be sold in 2013, with that figure rising to nearly 70 million by 2017. Health- and fitness-related devices are expected to account for 80 percent of the market, and by 2014, smart glasses are expected to be a $1.5 billion market.
In August, Apple, which has not confirmed that it's working on a smartwatch, hired workout consultant Jay Blahnik, who was a key player behind Nike's FuelBand and helped to build an online following for Nike more than 6 million users strong.
In May, Apple CEO Tim Cook called the wearables market "ripe for exploration" and said the sensor field is "going to explode."
That may or may not start today.