Calling the Galaxy Gear a smartwatch is a disservice to the word "smart"
We've been hearing for months that Apple, Google, Dell, and seemingly every other technology company would soon be producing their own technologically-enhanced timepieces. Well, it's finally time to prepare your wrists for the sweet, sweet bliss of technological advancement: the so-called wearable computing revolution is upon us.
Samsung has beaten nearly every other company to the punch with the Galaxy Gear, an Android-powered smartwatch with a video camera, microphone, and a 1.63-inch display. The device is expected to cost $299 when it launches in early October.
The future is almost here, and after staring at images of the Galaxy Gear, reading about its features, and confirming that Samsung isn't playing a much-belated April Fool's joke on us, I've decided that the present has never looked so good.
Besides allowing easier access to notifications than its non-wearable counterparts, the only thing the Galaxy Gear seems likely to do better than a smartphone is stay wrapped around a wrist. Its ability to make calls, record video, and track a user's location are tempered by a reportedly lackluster display, sluggish software, and a next-to-worthless battery.
"People are not ready to go through a lot of hassle for something," says Atheer Labs CEO Soulaiman Itani. "They are not ready to charge them constantly. You'll charge your phone every day; you're not going to charge your smartwatch every day."
Those limitations would be unacceptable in a modern smartphone, many of which can be purchased for less than $200 when consumers renew their two-year contracts with the wireless provider of their choice. But in a device that costs $299, nearly $100 more than most people spend on their smartphones, and designed to act as an accessory to cheaper, more-capable devices, those limitations are just too, well, limiting.
In some ways, then, the Galaxy Gear is the ultimate aspirational purchase. Those who buy the device at launch probably aren't buying it because they want a glorified, wrist-worn notification tray; they're buying into the idea that smartwatches will enable the future of computing.
Other companies, like Bionym's Nymi wristband, operate under the same assumption. Nymi isn't meant to just provide access to a computer or smartphone -- it's meant to make it easier to open a trunk, unlock a door, resume a television show, make payments, and more. It certainly won't do all of those things out of the box, and might not ever become more than a convenient way to unlock a smartphone, but that won't dissuade determined buyers.
Itani says that Samsung has demonstrated its ability to reward those aspirational purchases and eventually make a compelling product, as we've seen in the smartphone market:
One thing [Samsung] does really well is iterate, and iterate, and iterate until they get something right. When Samsung started HTC was ahead of them, Apple was way ahead of them, and they started in the last position of smartphones. And they started pumping out phones and iterating… so I'm hoping that they will listen to the market's reaction on this stuff and they will keep adapting it until they get it right.Until then, however, the Galaxy Gear is simply an expensive accessory with limited functionality and an even more limited battery that won't ship with support for Samsung's flagship smartphone. Though, of course, many of the same complaints -- minus the lack of support for a flagship smartphone, of course -- were levied against the original iPhone, which ended up re-defining the smartphone industry.
The Galaxy Gear might not deserve to join the ranks of the Tiddy Bear, Tinkles the Toilet Cat, or canisters of spray-on hair in the definitive list of the stupidest products (of all time!) but, at least for now, calling it a "smart" product seems charitable at best.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]