Samsung’s Galaxy Gear will work with non-Samsung phones. Or will it?

Samsung Galaxy Gear Multiple watches

Samsung will eventually make its Galaxy Gear smartwatch compatible with non-Samsung phones reports Dan Rowinski at ReadWrite. Why couldn’t it do so at first? There’s actually a reasonable explanation for that, but I’m not sold that buyers of the Galaxy Gear for a non-Samsung phone or tablet will get the same experience as those who do own a Samsung device.

Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear

Since the Galaxy Gear uses Bluetooth 4.0 LE, it actually requires Android 4.3 on a smartphone or tablet. That makes complete sense to me. Google only recently added support for this Bluetooth spec with Android 4.3 and few devices actually have it right now. But there are some. Google’s own Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets, for example, run Android 4.3, as do older Nexus phones thanks to recent software updates. Most don’t have the hardware for Bluetooth 4.0 LE, however.

That new Nexus 7 tablet actually does have it, so theoretically, Samsung could have had the Galaxy Gear support Google’s tablet from day one. But it doesn’t. And I’m not surprised: Samsung is succeeding largely because it is “re-branding” Google Android devices as Galaxy phones and tablets that run TouchWiz.

Nexus 7 rear

But there’s another key point that comes to mind: Some of the Galaxy Gear functions are very Samsung specific. Need an example? Aside from the touchscreen, you can use your voice as input for the Gear. Makes sense to me; it’s a great way to overcome the issue of input on the small screen of a smartwatch. So how does Samsung manage the voice input? Through its own S-Voice app.

Wait. There is no S-Voice app on non-Samsung devices. Nor is there an S-Health app for non-Samsung devices; the Gear uploads its exercise tracking data to S-Health.

S-Health on the Galaxy S 4

So one of three things has to happen for a non-Samsung device owner to get the full benefit of a Galaxy Gear smartwatch in this case. Let’s consider S-Voice.

One, Samsung could launch S-Voice for all Android devices. Hmmm…. give up a Samsung-branded service? I don’t think so.

Two, it could re-engineer the Galaxy Gear software to use Google’s own native voice features. Ah, but to do that, it would have to license the tech from Google. Yes, Android is free to use, but Google’s software — think Gmail and Google Play access for example — isn’t. I believe that the Galaxy Gear apps are coming directly through Samsung, which means the company hasn’t yet opted to license the Google bits such as Google Play and other Google services for the Android-powered smartwatch.

Three, it could sell the Galaxy Gear with fewer features to those who don’t have a Galaxy device. But I think the watch is already a tough sell for most at $299; who’s going to pay that much for less functionality?

Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Clearly, I’m just musing out loud here after reading the news. Perhaps Samsung has all of the details in place to offer the Galaxy Gear to non-Samsung device owners with ways around the challenges. Rest assured, there would be challenges, which is the ultimate point.

First and foremost, I think Samsung phone and tablet owners will always get the most benefit out of a Samsung companion product. And that fits in with Samsung’s overall strategy of dominating the Android space.

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