Watching The Wrist Devices-On-Androids Wars
Samsung’s J.K. Shin engaged in a bit of Jobsian stagecraft yesterday when he introduced the $299 Galaxy Gear, a device that -- if it ultimately proves nothing else -– gives the company bragging rights for beating Apple to market with a smartphone-like device that’s worn -- carried? -- on the wrist.
On a stage in Berlin a day before the start tomorrow of the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA), with live video feeds to the technology hoi polloi assembled before a giant screen in New York’s Times Square, Samsung’s head of mobile communications was getting into extolling its features when he was interrupted by in incoming text message.
“Don’t forget to mention Android,” it said, according to the huge reproduction of the watch’s face on the wide screen behind him.
“He then raised his left arm, exposing the watch to applause from both the Berlin crowd and people in Times Square…,” writes the New York Times’ Chris Cottrell. “Like other smartphones and tablets Samsung produces, Gear runs on Google’s Android operating system.”
Samsung has to hope that assessments of the product fare better in comparisons with whatever Apple eventually brings to market than Shin’s performance did in the eyes of stagecraft critics.
Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt, for example, tells us that he “wasn't in Berlin for the unveiling of Galaxy Gear…. But I've seen enough product introductions to know that … Shin is no Steve Jobs. Or even Phil Schiller. And that Samsung still has a lot to learn about making a splash in high tech.”
A YouTube video of the moment posted on the Fortune site has had its content removed “due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement,” but the somewhat stilted moment can be seen at the beginning of a USA Today video report about the unveiling.
“The "Samsung Unpacked" event should have been named "Samsung Unraveling," zings ZDNet’s Rachel King. “That's because, based on today's unveiling of the tech giant's anticipated entry into the burgeoning smartwatch market, it's clear that Samsung has dropped the ball.”
It “looks rushed and exorbitantly priced at the same time,” King concludes, pointing out that it’s only compatible with the Galaxy Note 10.1 and Galaxy Note 3 -- two other new Samsung devices (but backwards compatibility with earlier models is promised in the near future).
“It's quite unlike anything you've seen before,” writes The Verge’s Vlad Savov. “Yes, it's a smartphone accessory that can pick up notifications, control music playback, and keep time with a rich variety of watch faces, but Samsung takes it a few steps further by integrating a 1.9-megapixel camera, a speaker, and two microphones.” But despite his enthusiasm for the device, he says there are “significant downsides” –- starting with the “speed and intuitiveness of the user interface.”
Not that the device was all that much of a surprise to the technology cognoscenti.
“This week's Galaxy Gear prototype leak didn't leave much to the imagination,” blogged Engadget’s Zack Honig. “Samsung's new wearable was expected to debut with a built-in camera, speakers and a relatively clunky design, all of which are indeed present on the device we're meeting today.”
He continues: “The Galaxy Gear is both a control center for your phone and a health-tracking device, but it’s also much more. Think of it as Google Glass for your wrist, or — sure, why not? — the first device that can legitimately claim to be a 21st-century version of Dick Tracy’s “2-way wrist radio.”
Aside from the persistently rumored iWatch (which Macworld’s Christopher Breen seems to feel will not exactly be “the life-changing thingamabob du jour” that some folks hope it might be if it ever comes to market), the Gear’s here-and-now competitors include the Sony SmartWatch 2 and the Qualcomm Toq.
The former doesn’t have as many features as Gear, but sports a longer battery life, writes TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington. “These are two very different definitions of the term ‘smartwatch,’ with the more ambitious vision coming from Samsung,” he concludes.
The Toq is another Android-based device that was revealed at Qualcomm’s Uplinq developer conference in San Diego yesterday with a bit more modesty.
“We expect to make tens of thousands of these, not hundreds of thousands,” Qualcomm executive Rob Chandhok tells All Things D’s Ina Fried. “A success, for us, looks like our partners picking up and running with this. Qualcomm isn’t turning into a consumer electronics company.”
And Samsung isn't turning into Apple yet either, apparently.