Samsung unveils new smartwatch that makes calls (Update)

Sep 04, 2013 by Frank Jordans
JK Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, presents the Samsung Galaxy Gear in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Samsung has unveiled a highly anticipated digital wristwatch well ahead of a similar product expected from rival Apple. The so-called smartwatch is what some technology analysts believe could become this year's must-have holiday gift. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Nearly 70 years after Dick Tracy began wearing a two-way wrist radio in the funny pages, the technology that once seemed impossibly futuristic will be widely available by Christmas.

Samsung on Wednesday introduced a digital watch for the holiday season that will let users check messages with a glance at their wrists and have conversations secret agent-style.

So-called smartwatches have been around for several years. But so far, they have failed to attract much consumer interest. That may change with the Samsung Galaxy Gear, which offers the company a chance to pull off the same as feat Apple did with the iPad—popularize a type of device that has lingered mostly unnoticed on store shelves.

Read: Review: Samsung watch blends style, tech wizardry

The Gear must be linked wirelessly with a smartphone to perform its full range of functions. It acts as an extension to the phone by discreetly alerting users to incoming messages and calls on its screen, which measures 1.63 inches diagonally.

"With Gear, you're able to make calls and receive calls without ever taking your phone out of your pocket," Pranav Mistry, a member of Samsung's design team, told reporters at the launch in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show here.

Sony and Qualcomm also introduced smartwatches Wednesday. Apple Inc. is expected to release its own smartwatch, though it's not clear yet when. The release of separate products from so many manufacturers could stir interest in smartwatches in general. Meanwhile, Google is working on Google Glass—a device designed to work like a smartphone and worn like a pair of glasses.

JK Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, presents the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Samsung has unveiled a highly anticipated digital wristwatch well ahead of a similar product expected from rival Apple. The so-called smartwatch is what some technology analysts believe could become this year's must-have holiday gift. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

With smartphones and tablets now ubiquitous, electronics companies are trying to create a new category of products that put advanced computing technology into everyday objects such as wristwatches and glasses. Research firm Gartner projects that wearable smart electronics will be a $10 billion industry by 2016.

But Ramon Llamas, an analyst at research firm IDC, said many things have to go right for smartwatches to succeed. Llamas said the devices need to offer a range of useful applications that justify carrying around—and charging—another digital device.

"It can't just be notifications of how many incoming messages you have," he said. "Health applications seem to be the low-hanging fruit."

JK Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, presents the Samsung Galaxy Gear in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Samsung has unveiled a highly anticipated digital wristwatch well ahead of a similar product expected from rival Apple. The so-called smartwatch is what some technology analysts believe could become this year's must-have holiday gift. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

For starters, the Gear will work with sporting and fitness apps such as RunKeeper, which tracks runs and other workouts.

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi believes it ought to do more, such as monitor a user's pulse and other health information. Other sensors, she said, could also authenticate a user's identity when making payments or detect locations so users could share their whereabouts with their friends.

"The watch is smart, but not as smart as it could be," Milanesi said. "It doesn't look like Samsung pushed the envelope as much as I hope Apple will. Right now, it looks like (Gear) will just provide you with an extra screen that is more convenient to look at than to have to take out a larger device. I don't think that's what consumers want."

JK Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, presents three new products including the Samsung Galaxy Gear in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Samsung has unveiled a highly anticipated digital wristwatch well ahead of a similar product expected from rival Apple. The so-called smartwatch is what some technology analysts believe could become this year's must-have holiday gift. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

The Gear goes on sale in the United States and Japan next month. The rest of the world will get it sooner, on Sept. 25, with prices starting at $299. That is about twice the price of currently available devices such as the Sony SmartWatch and the Pebble, which was funded through more than $10 million pledged by individuals on fundraising website Kickstarter. Another startup, also funded through Kickstarter, hopes to launch a stand-alone watch called Omate TrueSmart that comes with built-in cell connectivity.

Samsung Electronics Co.'s smartwatch uses Google's Android operating system, just like many of the phones and tablets made by the South Korean electronics company.

Mistry demonstrated the calling function on the Gear by holding it up to his ear and talking into a microphone hidden in the watch. The watch then relays the call to a smartphone over a built-in Bluetooth connection.

JK Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, presents the Samsung Galaxy Gear in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Samsung has unveiled a highly anticipated digital wristwatch well ahead of a similar product expected from rival Apple. The so-called smartwatch is what some technology analysts believe could become this year's must-have holiday gift. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

The strap, which comes in six colors, holds a basic camera that can be used to shoot photos and video. When linked to a smartphone or tablet, the Gear lets people check emails and Facebook updates from their wrists. Samsung said replies are possible through voice dictation. Voice commands can also be used for such tasks as setting alarms, creating calendar entries and checking the weather.

The Gear will be compatible initially with two Samsung products also unveiled Wednesday—the Galaxy Note 3, a smartphone with a giant 5.7-inch screen and a digital pen, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a tablet computer with a 10.1-inch screen comparable to Apple's full-sized iPad. But Samsung promised to update other Galaxy phones and tablets to work with the Gear in the future.

The number of apps that work with the Gear is also still limited. More than 70 apps are currently supported, including Facebook, Twitter and RunKeeper. That compares with the hundreds of thousands available for leading smartphones.

JK Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, presents the Samsung Galaxy Gear in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Samsung has unveiled a highly anticipated digital wristwatch well ahead of a similar product expected from rival Apple. The so-called smartwatch is what some technology analysts believe could become this year's must-have holiday gift. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Unlike normal watches that can tick away for years on end, Samsung only promises a full day's use out of the Gear before it has to be charged.

Apple's plans for a smartwatch aren't known, but the company has been seeking a trademark for the iWatch name. The company is widely believed to be developing a watch that works on the same software as its iPhone and iPad, although it's unclear if it will be ready before the holidays. An announcement event next week is expected to be on new iPhones. Apple declined to comment Wednesday.

JK Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, presents the Samsung Galaxy Gear in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Samsung has unveiled a highly anticipated digital wristwatch well ahead of a similar product expected from rival Apple. The so-called smartwatch is what some technology analysts believe could become this year's must-have holiday gift. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Meanwhile, Qualcomm didn't disclose a specific price or date for the Toq, beyond saying it will come out this year. Sony didn't provide many details about its SmartWatch 2 either. The focus of its announcement Wednesday was a new smartphone with a high-resolution camera.

Robert-Jan Broer, head of Germany-based market research firm Chronolytics, said many people who have stopped wearing watches because they are surrounded by time-telling devices might consider buying a smartwatch.

JK Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, presents three new products including the Samsung Galaxy Gear in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Samsung has unveiled a highly anticipated digital wristwatch well ahead of a similar product expected from rival Apple. The so-called smartwatch is what some technology analysts believe could become this year's must-have holiday gift. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Brian Profitt, a technology expert and adjunct instructor of management at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, said the real question is whether the Samsung watch "will make the purchase of yet-another smart device worth it."

"It's great to have hands-free capabilities to take notes or snap a picture," Profitt said. "But it is $299 great? That's going to be the real test for the Galaxy Gear."

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axemaster
3 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2013
I don't want to be a hater or anything, I'm all for new technology, but... what is this for? What's the real benefit of having a smartwatch over just a smartphone? As far as I can tell, it's just another object that you have to recharge, which can break, etc.

Moreover, doesn't something like Google Glass do the job better? We all know the day is coming when Glass won't be super annoying, and when it does, these smartwatches had better have something really amazing up their sleeves, otherwise they're history.
ChangBroot
1 / 5 (4) Sep 04, 2013
Now another reason for consumers to waste money. Though, I would get ride of my phone, if this thing could replace it.
Roj
5 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2013
For those that remember Dick Tracy's wrist-watch radio of the 1970's US television cartoon, maybe in another 40 years they will figure out how to make his flying bucket.
axemaster
not rated yet Sep 05, 2013
Hence my statement "We all know the day is coming when Glass won't be super annoying, and when it does..."
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 05, 2013
The other people may feel offended in their privacy with camera in Google Glass.

The smartwatch also contains a camera. No gain there.

The big 'selling point' they tout is that you don't have to pry out your smartphone during meetings to look at mail. As if anyone could sit comfortably with the brick, that is today's smartphone, in their pockets.

Other than that the smartwatch has really no use whatsoever.
Moebius
1 / 5 (4) Sep 05, 2013
It only works with one Samsung phone model. I saw one post somewhere that says they make around 200 models. I'm guessing this launch was pushed ahead to try and steal some of Apple's thunder next week.
Grallen
5 / 5 (1) Sep 05, 2013
My friend used the smart watch's vibrate to replace his ringer. He says it's far more reliable as something that he will notice.

This one seems far more advanced than the pebble he's using. I'm sure people will find uses.