Galaxy Gear Sets a Low Bar for Apple Smartwatch

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2013-09-09 Print this article Print

Samsung Galaxy Gear, the smartwatch introduced Sept. 4 by the world's best-selling smartphone maker, is fascinating for how minimally it advances the smartwatch form factor. It's not very sleek—it has exposed screws that look more lazy than industrial-chic. It's not very thin—"chunky" is a word the media has repeatedly reached for. And neither does it do anything truly impressive. It does have hands-free voice control—though even the LG GD910, a watch released in 2009, could be prompted by a voice command to do things like call someone in your contact list. The Gear also has a camera in the band, though the use cases for employing the 1.9-megapixel camera on one's wrist over the 13-megapixel camera on the phablet sagging one's pocket are limited. Analysts suggest that two factors explain the Gear. One, it's an acknowledgment that phablets, an area where Samsung is having great success, are large, and it's helpful to pair them with something small. And second, with Apple expected to soon introduce a smartwatch, Samsung wanted to beat it to market. The same day the Gear debuted, though, Qualcomm introduced an arguably better option, the Toq. Was the rush worth it? Below, we look at where the market stands.

  • Galaxy Gear Sets a Low Bar for Apple Smartwatch

    by Michelle Maisto
    0-Galaxy Gear Sets a Low Bar for Apple Smartwatch
  • Smartwatch as Phablet Counterpart

    "Samsung implicitly recognizes that phablets have gotten so large that users actually need a second, smaller screen paired with their larger main phone," Ken Hyers, a senior analyst with Strategy Analytics, told eWEEK. "That's why Gear was launched [alongside] the Note 3."
    1-Smartwatch as Phablet Counterpart
  • Race to the Starting Line

    "For me, Gear is more about getting something to market before Apple than actually taking the time to think through and reinvent the space," said Gartner Research Vice President Carolina Milanesi.
    2-Race to the Starting Line
  • Devices for the Sexes

    On a woman's wrist, the Gear can look and feel overly large, though smartwatches would seem an opportunity to offer women a more refined experience—the opposite of having to use two hands to navigate a smartphone with a 5-plus-inch display. While this image is lovely, it's notable that we're not seeing the bulkier camera side of the watch.
    3-Devices for the Sexes
  • Easy User Interface

    "This is definitely Samsung jumping into a market because it doesn't want to be left out," said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart. What Samsung did get right, he added, is the user interface. "It's very easy to navigate."
    4-Easy User Interface
  • The Smartwatch Playing Field

    "Qualcomm just introduced the Toq, and Sony is on the second version of its SmartWatch," said Greengart. "What I'm looking to see Apple do is focus on a limited number of functions and solve very specific problems for consumers. That's how they revolutionized MP3s with the iPod." (Shown here, the not-yet-available Sony SmartWatch 2, or SW2.)
    5-The Smartwatch Playing Field
  • Smartwatches Demand Priorities

    "With smartwatches, technology for the sake of technology will just not work," said Gartner's Milanesi. "Design and usability have to come first, even more so than on phones." She shrugged off the SW2 as a "light refresh" of the earlier Sony model.
    6-Smartwatches Demand Priorities
  • The Qualcomm Toq Smartwatch

    Qualcomm introduced the Toq Sept. 4. It features Qualcomm's low-power Mirasol display technology, can wirelessly charge when sitting in its case and can be paired with Bluetooth earbuds, which Qualcomm says offers a "'Digital 6th Sense,' telling you what you need to know ... with just a glance at your wrist or a whisper in your ear."
    7-The Qualcomm Toq Smartwatch
  • A Difficult Form to Master

    "Toq is a better execution of the concept [than the Galaxy Gear]," said Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies. He added that the Toq took far longer to make and cost about twice as much.
    8-Title: A Difficult Form to Master
  • Qualcomm's Motivation

    Qualcomm already has its processors in smartphones, and it's using the Toq to encourage others to use its mobile displays as well. Strategy Analytics' Hyers points out that smartwatches require as much charging as smartphones. The Toq's energy-efficient Mirasol display and wireless charging make it "less fiddly" and "easier to live with."
    9-Qualcomm's Motivation
  • Peripheral Pricing vs. Computer Pricing

    The Toq won't be ready until the end of this year, if not early 2014, and Kay says Qualcomm, which has put pricing around $350, will "pretty quickly want to cost optimize," as $250 is about the limit that consumers are willing to pay for a peripheral. The Pebble smartwatch, seen here, is $150 and available in Android- and iOS-compatible versions.
    10-Peripheral Pricing vs. Computer Pricing
  • Augmented Reality

    Where Gear and other smartwatches will shine, says Hyers, is augmented reality. While Google Glass and smartphones support AR, they're both "kind of clunky for everyday use." Good smartwatch apps "will allow users to briefly lift their wrist, get the information they want and then quickly move on," he said.
    11-Augmented Reality
  • More Than iPod Nano Watches

    Apple hasn't admitted it's working on a smartwatch, though it recently hired away from Nike a key developer of the FuelBand. Speaking in regard to the Galaxy Gear, Gartner's Milanesi commented, "I sure expect more from Apple." Kay added, "You can bet Apple will make hay of this situation."
    12-More Than iPod Nano Watches

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