As I sat in the audience watching Samsung unveil the Galaxy S5 and three new Gear smartwatches, I had a potentially life-changing epiphany: Why don’t these smartwatches support other, non-Samsung smartphones? I actually quite like the look of the Gear Fit, and would be tempted to invest – but I don’t own a Galaxy phone, so the value proposition plummets; it’s probably not worth the money.
Why is the Fit only supported by a handful of Galaxy smartphones and no others? Why doesn’t Samsung extend support to every other Android phone, the iPhone, and even Windows Phone? This oversight is either stupidity or hubris on Samsung’s behalf.
The Gear smartwatches are very simple Bluetooth devices. The fact that the new Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit are supported by older Galaxy smartphones implies that there aren’t any special hardware requirements to connect to the smartwatches – you just need Bluetooth, and an app on the smartphone. There have already been cases of enterprising hackers taking the Gear Manager APK from a Samsung device and sideloading it onto another non-Galaxy Android smartphone – and it works. As far as I’m aware, there’s no technological reason for Samsung not releasing a Gear app to the Google Play store, or to the iTunes App Store.
Imagine if anyone could head to the store and buy a Fit smartwatch on 11 April, irrespective of whether they also have a Galaxy phone or not. The Fit is, objectively, a really nice piece of hardware; the screen is beautiful, the design is attractive (for an activity tracker), and it has a lot more functionality than any other comparable device out there (Fitbit, Nike FuelBand, et al).
I suspect, if the Fit was compatible with the iPhone, there would be a surprisingly large number of people who would invest. Likewise, if the Fit supported the Nexus 5, HTC One, and other Android phones, Samsung would certainly sell more smartwatches. Yes, the Galaxy range definitely makes up a large portion of the total smartphone market – perhaps around 30-40 per cent – but by opening the Gear smartwatches up to the rest of the market, Samsung gains hundreds of millions of prospective buyers.
I mean, I can see Samsung’s logic – it desperately wants people to buy into the complete Samsung ecosystem, in the same way that people buy an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and MacBook Pro. Samsung probably, in a deluded fashion, sees the Fit as a carrot to get people to buy a Galaxy smartphone. The Fit is nice, but not that nice. There are other forces at play (fashion, 24-month phone contracts, app ecosystem) that are far stronger. There could be millions of iPhone users out there who want to buy the Fit, but are 12 plus months away from getting a Samsung smartphone from their carrier. There could be lots of people who are willing to pay £200-300 for the Fit, but not £800-odd for a new Galaxy smartphone and watch.
If Samsung made the Gear Fit compatible with the complete Android ecosystem and iOS, it would probably become the first smartwatch success story. The Fit would then generate more press attention, more word-of-mouth, and thus more sales. The Fit could be a really exciting product. Instead, Samsung seems content with selling more Fits than the original Galaxy Gear – which isn’t exactly hard.
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