It was about a week ago when Bloomberg reported that Samsung was getting ready to launch its smart watch called Galaxy Gear. Since then we have been calling around and our sources have come back with enough details for us to give a reasonable assessment of what this watch could look like. Our sources tell us that the September 4, 2013 launch is pretty certain and there is a likelihood that the company will hold events in both Berlin and New York. Samsung might even have a pop-up store in Times Square where it could sell the watches. We reached out to Samsung’s spokesperson and are waiting to hear back from them.
What hardware will the watch have?
For instance, our sources who are familiar with Samsung’s plans tell us Samsung has seeded many different variations of the watch design to developers, but most of them are said to have square screens and all have high quality OLED displays that show full spectrum of colors. It is said to be around 2.5 inches diagonally (and 3 inches diagonally including the case), is powered by a dual core processor and should have pretty decent battery life. That information lines up with an earlier SamMobile report suggesting a Samsung Exynos 4212 dual core 1.5GHz with Mali-400 MP4 GPU and a 320 x 320 resolution display.
In addition, we are told the watch has a camera that is integrated into the strap and even has tiny speakers in the clasp of the watch, plus built-in NFC to allow for bump-to-sync and authenticate. The watch uses Bluetooth 4.0 LE to connect with smartphones for connectivity.
In addition, the watch has a built-in accelerometer that makes it possible to switch it on when it is moved up towards the eye. It could be a great way to wake the watch and also the apps and manage battery power. The watch screen will support the usual touch, swipe and select type gestures but will likely not have text-input, which makes perfect sense given the sheer size of the small screen. Galaxy Gear will have enough sensors that it can start to compete with wearable computing devices such as the Nike Fuelband; Samsung has already shown an interest in the quantified self with its S-Health tracking apps for the Galaxy S 4.
And now for the smart Samsung-only software
The Galaxy Gear watches that have been seeded with the developers are based on Android 4.1 (and in some cases 4.2) and there is very tight integration and syncing between the watch and the phones and tablets. For instance, if one has swiped through notifications, stops at an email blurb and then picks up the smartphone, the phone will display that email message attached to the blurb you were looking at on the watch. The company will feature integration with Twitter and Facebook at launch.
The watch will connect to a Samsung watch manager app on the phone to manage the connection between watch and the phone. The connection will use Samsung’s proprietary accessory protocol and will use Bluetooth LE as the network transport. Apparently if there is any app running on the watch, it is its own discreet endpoint and will work directly with the servers.
Interestingly, our sources tell us that the apps designed to leverage the watch hardware will come not from the Google Play store, but instead from the Samsung App store. I think if this is indeed true then Samsung is starting to slowly getting developers to publish through its own platform and become independent of Google.
That likely means if you want a Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, you’ll need a Samsung Galaxy phone or tablet. Perhaps Samsung is copying too much from Apple of late and is creating a walled-garden approach of its own; something that Android fans aren’t likely going to be keen on.
So, what does it really mean?
Notifications are the currency of the new post-PC world and the frequency of those notifications are increasing by the day. Notifications are becoming a way for us to interact with the hardware and services, so it makes sense for phone hardware makers to think about their phones not as phones but as personal servers that form the epicenter of the computing fabric that we will carry around us. This will be a new way of experiencing information and will probably make us think differently about the experience and design again.
“Mobile to wearables is a much bigger deal in how you think about making products,” Phil Libin, chief executive officer of Evernote, told GigaOM, earlier this month, and added, “None of this is going to be super mainstream in six or 12 months, but I think it’s going to be in the next two or three years… It’s going to go faster than people expect.”
If Samsung has its way, it will be much sooner than that. And for good reason. Clearly, the higher-ups at Samsung are aware of the same reports we are of Apple’s iWatch efforts. This time, instead of letting Apple take the lead, Samsung appears prepared to jump ahead in the smartwatch game. If the company has created a winning device, it could pay off.
But if the Galaxy Gear suffers from connection drops, user interface challenges and other issues found in prior smartwatch efforts, Samsung is only setting up Apple for success because it won’t deliver a smartwatch until it’s bulletproof.
What about the other competition?
These days, it seems like everyone is trying to get in on the smartwatch wave before it crests. And many of those products also run on Android. Sony has created three revisions to its Live View wearable which acts as a second-screen for an Android phone. In 2011, Motorola debuted the MotoACTV sports tracker that also connects to Androids over Bluetooth for notifications, incoming caller ID, texts and social networking threads. A key difference with MotoACTV is that it works without a phone as a GPS-enabled golf caddie, wireless MP3 player and run tracker.
Those are the bigger name efforts but there’s been no lack of effort from the smaller players. MetaWatch offers notifications on your wrist thanks to a reflective, low power display while the Pebble was a Kickstarter darling, raising over $10 million and is now available on Best Buy store shelves.
None of these products yet has been able to sway the mainstream consumer that a smartwatch is a necessity. Part of the problem is the definition of a smartwatch: Do we want simple and wearable second screens for our mobile devices or is there greater demand for a standalone device? Samsung seems intent on pushing the former, rather than the latter, based on what we’re hearing. And that makes sense because it’s a safer bet this yearly in the growing smartphone wave.