These days, it simply isn’t enough to have a computer in your pocket that can run circles around desktops from a few years ago. No, you need to have that power on display where everyone can see it, be that on your face or on your wrist. Google is going for the face-computer with Glass, but several companies are rumoured to be developing smartwatches like the Kickstarter success Pebble watch. One OEM likely to release a smartwatch is Samsung, and the rumours are shaping up nicely – this might actually be a product you want to buy.
The newest titbit of information indicates that the Samsung Galaxy Gear (the rumoured name) will not be a self-contained phone, which should come as a massive relief. Cramming a Sim card and data modem into a smartwatch would raise the price dramatically and still offer virtually no additional functionality. After all, no human being with a shred of common sense is going to opt to make their main phone a watch when a regular smartphone is so much more useful.
What Samsung is probably looking at is an accessory that pairs with Samsung phones and tablets over Bluetooth. This is not only the simplest approach, it’s one uniquely suited to Samsung’s strengths as a hardware and software OEM.
Samsung has been supporting a variety of custom Bluetooth devices for the last few years. The Galaxy S4 was announced with support for the Bluetooth-equipped S Band fitness tracker, a heart rate monitor, and even a wireless scale. Samsung is also the sole Android OEM that has proper support for the Fitbit. It would make a ton of sense to take the next step and incorporate smartwatch functionality into a new fitness tracker that people might actually buy. Basically, wearables are in Samsung’s wheelhouse.
The Pebble and its smartwatch brethren have some interesting features, but they require accessory apps or hacking workarounds to pipe in the required data. If Samsung (or another OEM) designs its own smartwatch, it can be integrated at a very low level with the software. Samsung in particular could benefit because it has built so many custom apps into Android. In fact, a smartwatch could actually encourage people to use its apps.
Samsung has features like S Voice, S Translate, and S Health, but there are considerably more popular options in each of these areas. Imagine if a Samsung smartwatch integrated something like S Voice – press a button on your wrist, and start talking to get information or make your phone do something. It could do something similar with translations. That’s a compelling user experience that might pull people away from the more capable Google Now voice search.
The South Korean electronics giant also dominates the AMOLED display market. For a smartwatch to be truly useful, you want it to have an always-on, informative display. AMOLED is perfect for that because only the illuminated pixels draw power. If Samsung can fabricate 5in 1080p Super AMOLED panels, a tiny watch screen should be no problem.
Samsung is in a position to make this work. It has a huge slice of the smartphone market, and good mindshare to go with it. Now it just has to make the device affordable.