Enterprise professionals, here come the smartwatches.
Samsung on Wednesday unveiled its long-anticipated Galaxy Gear smartwatch in Berlin on the eve of the 2013 IFA consumer electronics show, along with a new smartphone and tablet. All three are expected to be available for purchase starting September 25 in 149 countries (though the Galaxy Gear and Galaxy Note 3 smartphone won’t be available in the U.S. until October).
The South Korean electronics manufacturer is one of only several companies expected to launch smartwatches before the end of the year. Qualcomm also demonstrated its Toq smartwatch on Wednesday at a developers’ conference, while Apple and Sony also are rushing to get smartwatches into production.
Pebble already has a Kickstarter-funded smartwatch on the market, but it has limited functionality. The next generation of smartwatches are expected to be much more robust and enterprise-ready.
Which is no guarantee that smartwatches will achieve the kind of enterprise penetration seen by smartphones and tablets, particularly the iPhone and iPad. But they'll certainly be a presence, if only for the fact that a bunch of bleeding-edge executives will be strapping the $299 Galaxy Gear onto their wrists a few weeks from now to show off in the boardroom.
The Galaxy Gear is a 3-inch rectangular device – I can’t imagine how it would look on someone with a small wrist – that enables users to answer phone calls, and send text messages or video memos. Users navigate through apps by swiping the surface of the device, exactly as they do with smartphones and tablets.
A smartwatch user who gets a phone call can talk into their wrist device instead of their phones by putting their wrist up near their mouth.
The Galaxy Gear also features S Voice, a voice-activated service that wearers can use to check messages, make phone calls and get basic information such a weather forecasts, and a camera.
Another feature called Smart Relay allows users who get an email notification on their Galaxy Gear to watch the email automatically appear on their smartphones, rather than have to click on their mail client. Sounds pretty handy.
Samsung will sell the smartwatch with a variety of band colors, including orange and green (really?).
How much is convenience worth?
As with Google Glass, the real value in smartwatches will come from the applications developed for them. Until now the vast majority of computerized wrist devices have primarily featured fitness and tracking apps. Once wrist devices get beyond the fitness market, that’s going to change.
Unlike Google Glass, however, the Galaxy Gear and other smartwatches represent a relatively modest leap forward for wearable technology. Glass is taking computer technology and putting it right in your field of vision. That's a dramatic change.
The main advantage to a smartwatch, in contrast, is simple convenience -- people don't have to fumble around for their smartphones. All well and good, but I'm not sure most smartphone users consider that a burden. And again, $299 is a lot to pay for convenience. I'll be surprised if the Galaxy Gear and other smartphones are big sellers -- at least until prices drop and they demonstrate some added value, as tablets (with their larger screens) did.
Gear will run numerous apps out of the box, including Path, Pocket and Snapchat. A special Gear app store will be set up to offer compatible applications.
JK Shin, president and CEO of Samsung’s mobile division, told audience members and live-stream viewers that the Galaxy Gear was the “perfect companion” to the Note 3, making the point theatrically by accepting a message with the Gear smartwatch on his wrist.
In addition to working with the Note 3, Gear is compatible with the Galaxy Note 2, the Galaxy S4 (but not the S3?) and the Galaxy Note tablet. Samsung says the Gear’s watch will last more than 25 hours.
The Note 3 is about the same size as the current model, but the screen is larger – 5.7 inches to 5.5 inches. The device is powered by a 2.3 GHz processor and 3 GB of RAM, all running off of Android 4.3. Shin said the new device will include a better S-pen (that features Air Command) and a textured back cover.
Shin called Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet “the best choice for BYOD because it comes with KNOX loaded.” Among the free apps packaged with the Note 10.1 are Dropbox and Twitter.