smart-watches-are-dumb

Samsung might have finally announced a smartwatch people want to wear.

The company’s Galaxy Gear S was announced last night, and it’s compelling for at least one reason: it doesn’t become a clunky wristwatch or glorified paperweight when it’s not paired with a smartphone.

The Gear S follows a series of smartwatches that Samsung literally couldn’t give away. The company’s first attempt at introducing a mass-market smartwatch was so bad that I wrote last year that calling it a smartwatch would be a disservice to the word “smart.” The Gear S doesn’t have to provide a compelling reason for people to upgrade from an older version, which is the biggest obstacle new gadgets face — instead, it has to prove that it’s nothing like its ancestors.

It seems like the Gear S might be able to do just that, if only because it’s the first mass-market smartwatch that doesn’t require a connection to a smartphone to function. Samsung will sell the device with 3G connectivity, which is a notable change from other wearable products, many of which have to connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth to do something besides show the time. That might just help make the Gear S seem like more than an expensive smartphone accessory.

The Gear S could still suffer from the other problems wearable products face, from the idea that they’re just notification delivery systems to the apathy with which people view the category. Its success is hardly guaranteed; but that doesn’t make its inclusion of 3G connectivity irrelevant. Instead, it shows that companies are starting to understand why consumers aren’t rushing out to purchase smartwatches, given their frustrating reliance on smartphones and boring features.

And it might just make life a little bit easier for our smartphones. The introduction of wearable products has been taxing on smartphones, which provide the cellular connection necessary for many of the wearable products’ most interesting features to function, as I pointed out last year:

[Wearable products are] like technological parasites that need a host to survive — once that host has been sucked dry the parasite will have to wait for another to come along (or, in this case, for a freshly charged battery) before they can do anything. Someone using Glass, Pebble, and a smartphone will find themselves with three paper weights if the smartphone runs out of juice.

If the Gear S manages to deliver compelling features without relying on other products, it might just allow Samsung to call one of its wearable products “smart” without crossing its fingers. I’m not holding my breath, but it seems like the device at least has a chance of doing that, so, I have to give Samsung credit where it’s due. Now we’ll have to see if shoppers like the damned thing.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]