Staggering their announcements at Mobile World Congress, Samsung today announced the Samsung Gear 2 and Gear Neo smartwatches. They are expected to hit the stores in April, but will they be damaged by Samsung’s earlier rush to release the Galaxy Gear smartwatch last year?
The two new smart watches are running dual-core 1 GHz CPU architecture, a 163×163 pixel super AMOLED touch screen, 4 GB of storage, 512 MB of RAM, an IR blaster, and bluetooth LE. The watches also include heart rate monitors, step counters, and a sensor suite that allows each watch to act as a basic fitness tracker.
They both require a host device to connect with, be that a smartphone or a table, and out of the box either of the new Gear devices will connect and interact with “dozens” of Samsung devices, according to the company’s press details today.
Notably the ‘Galaxy’ moniker has been dropped by the South Korean company, and with good reason. Galaxy has been retained for Samsung’s Android powered devices announced at CES 2014, but the new Gear watches are no longer powered by Google’s mobile operating system. That honour goes to Tizen. Samsung has already debuted Tizen to the public with the ZEQ 9000 smartphone, and now the Gear 2 and Gear Neo will be the first smartwatches using the Linux OS.
Given the bluster between Samsung and Google over the UI and general presentation of Android in the Galaxy smartphones and tablets this is a curious move, but one that should not be read too deeply. Android is an expensive OS to run in terms of power and resources, both of which are at a premium in a smartwatch. I suspect that Tizen’s nature was a better fit with goals such as battery life and code optimisation, and not a political statement about the core OS being delivered by Samsung.
The biggest problem the Gear 2 is not going to be the operating system, the specs, or the styling. Samsung’s follow up will have is countering the lack of goodwill that has built up around their 2013 smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear. That watch, announced on September 4th 2013, was broadly criticised for poor battery life, insipid design, a clunky user interface, and a lack of software. It also required the latest edition of Android on the controlling smartphone, and that meant at launch you had to have either the Galaxy Note 3 or Galaxy Note 10 – two brand new devices also launched at that September 2013 event.
Perhaps Samsung was looking to get first mover advantage with the release of the Galaxy Gear, to get ahead of the perceived competition from Apple (which has still to materialise), or to get as much user feedback as possible? With the knowledge of the Gear 2 that is running a different operating system with improved capabilities and battery life, why did they release the original Galaxy Gear? It’s not like the company needed to improve their cash flow.
If they had held off five months, they could have led with the Gear 2 and the Gear Neo running Tizen and everyone interested in smart watches would be happy to buy one. As it is the first movers with a Galaxy Gear are now going to feel left out of the revolution after a few short months, as the Android powered Galaxy Gear is marked down as a historical dead-end.
I think it is lucky that no other major manufacturer challenged Samsung’s smart watch business between September and now. Some companies continued their plans and have created a name for themselves, such as Palo Alto based start-up and $10 million Kickstarter darling Pebble; while others carried on with their own slow and steady improvements that failed to set the public’s mind alight with Sony’s SmartWatch 2 being a good example.
Nobody has stepped up to fully fill the void the Galaxy Gear launch created. The Pebble watch may have the best functionality, but it is a very tiny David compared to the Goliath like nature of Samsung. Samsung’s PR budget for the original Gear could probably fund Pebble for a good few years. Nevertheless Samsung was the second biggest elephant in the room, and their appearance in the smartphone space legitimized the niche in a way that only one other company could do so. Their backing of the Galaxy Gear, flawed though it was, ensured smartwatches became part of the conversation.
That makes the new Gear watches a slightly easier sell, because Samsung has created the expectation of a smartwatch as a partner device through the sheer volume of their advertising and branding actions. They have also created a pile of negative expectations around a rather expensive product line that many still regard as a novelty.
I will be interested to see how Samsung handles this mismatch in April when the Gear 2 and Gear Neo reach the high streets, and if the Gear can lift itself up and find an audience.