The device’s potential market is limited by Samsung’s choice to keep it compatible with only its own devices, and further narrowed to which of those will receive an upgrade to version 4.3 of Google’s Android operating system. Considering only 6.5% of Android devices are currently running version 4.2, it could be a while before most Samsung-owning consumers could buy a Galaxy Gear and expect it to actually work with their smartphones.
Yes, Android fragmentation is raising its head again, although Samsung might be hoping the lure of the Galaxy Gear will spur people into ditching their two year-old smartphones for a new one.
Another potential buzz-kill is the battery life. Samsung is being cagey about the Galaxy Gear’s battery, only saying it should last a full day of “regular” use. Nightly recharging or a smartwatch that dies after hours of heavy use won’t win any fans, especially when Apple is reportedly targeting four to five days of battery life for its iWatch.
And incorporating a built-in camera into the Galaxy Gear’s band is a puzzling design choice. We’re already seeing privacy issues raised about camera-equipped wearable tech like Google’s Project Glass, and this smartwatch might raise similar suspicions. That camera also makes replacing the Galaxy Gear’s band an expensive proposition — traditional watch makers know how much consumers like swapping out wristbands for different colors or styles.
The $299 price doesn’t seem steep for an early adopter crowd. But if smartwatches are going to go mainstream, Samsung will need to bring that down. Consider the dilemma smartphone makers are facing now, when $199 (on contract) flagship devices are too expensive for much of the mainstream, leading to manufacturers scrambling to provide a cheaper option to keep growth on track.
While smartphones are a virtual necessity today, a smartwatch is going to be a tougher sell, especially when it costs more than an iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4.
If there was one real surprise on Wednesday, it was that Qualcomm (QCOM) also announced a smartphone. Its Toq will sell as a limited edition in the $300 range and offers what most of us are currently expecting from a smartwatch — notifications and call management via a connected smartphone. The Toq goes for five days of regular use on a charge.
According to CNET, Qualcomm took the unusual step of offering a consumer device to show off its own Mirasol display technology and chips, hoping that its power-efficient technology will be chosen by other manufacturers if smartphones happen to take off.
Maybe Samsung should look into Mirasol instead of the Super AMOLED display the Galaxy Gear uses to do something about that battery life. That would solve at least one of the Galaxy Gear’s problems.
As for Android fragmentation … well, there’s a lot of work to be done on that front.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.