As expected Samsung showed its Galaxy Gear smartwatch overnight at the IFA show in Berlin. The watch is designed as a smartphone companion device – at the moment it only works with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 also launched overnight at IFA.
Less expected was an announcement from Qualcomm which also took the wraps off the touchscreen Toq smartwatch. Qualcomm says its device will sell for around US$300, that’s roughly the same as the expected price for Samsung’s smartwatch. Qualcomm and Samsung says their watches should be available worldwide by the end of next month.
Both smartwatches are effectively second screens for smartphones.
In both cases they connect to phones by Bluetooth and alert users to incoming text messages and emails – as if phones aren’t already rather good at doing that. You can use Galaxy Gear to take calls and the a built-in camera. Samsung says it launched with 70 apps including some from popular names such as Evernote.
Do you want, need a smartwatch?
All good? Well not really. Neither watch adds much functionality – nearly everything it does on your wrist can be done by the phone in your pocket. And Galaxy Gear’s 25 hour watch battery life is nothing to tweet home about either. Qualcomm says the Toq will go for days without needing to use its wireless charger.
Samsung scored something of a coup getting its watch out before expected devices from the likes of Apple and Microsoft. Bragging rights in this department can matter with the technology’s big guns – although Qualcomm’s announcement takes some of the shine off.
And anyway, Samsung isn’t first to market with a smartwatch, Sony announced its Smartwatch 2 in July. The device is already on sale.
Is there a smartwatch market?
Before anyone reminds us there wasn’t an obvious market when Apple launched the iPad, consider this. Sony has been selling a smartwatch for about a year without setting the world on fire. Qualcomm is conservative about Toq’s prospects telling reporters it expects the device to sell in tens, not hundreds of thousands.
On the other hand, Samsung expects its Galaxy Gear to be a fashion item – which could work.
For me the key point is what do these watches allow you to do that you couldn’t previously do? Where is the value in terms of function, productivity or fun? It’s possible another smartwatch maker could redefine the genre, but if a smartwatch is nothing more than a second screen for a smartphone, it’s unlikely to go far.
So here’s a prediction, smartwatches will sell. Geeks and tech fans will buy them as fashion accessories. But they will not be must-have gadgets – at least not until someone finds something more for them to do.