Your wrist may become the next great mobile battleground.
Rather than play catch-up after Apple releases its much-speculated iWatch, Samsung is set to announce a smartwatch of its own on Wednesday. Although other smartwatches are currently on the market, the now-confirmed Galaxy Gear would be the first smartwatch from an elite mobile-hardware manufacturer with a proven ability to create bleeding-edge devices with mass appeal.
On Sunday, VentureBeat posted images and details of what it described as a prototype of the Galaxy Gear, but the hardware is missing a number of features that Samsung will need in order to steal the smartwatch market before Apple can even enter it.
Long battery life
The Pebble smartwatch, with its low-powered LCD screen, can last about a week without recharging. And Sony says its upcoming Android-powered SmartWatch 2 will run for three to four days under normal usage. Not bad.
According to a recent unsubstantiated report, Samsung's Gear will offer 10 hours of battery life, though no one is sure whether that claim refers to continuous, always-on use or to mixed use, including standby. It had better be the former, because any smartwatch that requires midday charging is a smartwatch bound for failure.
The device's rumored 3-inch-ish OLED screen would probably be the biggest battery drain. One possible solution to help conserve power is a display that would activate only when needed. For example, the screens on Motorola's new Moto X and Droid phones remain dormant until the user picks up the phone, all thanks to a battery-saving function that Motorola calls Active Display. Using an accelerometer or other sensors, the Samsung watch's display might activate when you twist your arm to look at it.
Android and iOS support
The Galaxy Gear would be wise to distinguish itself from existing Android-powered smartwatches such as the Sony SmartWatch 2 by having the ability to pair with iOS devices as well. Unfortunately, nothing in the latest unsubstantiated report suggests the Gear will support anything but Android.
Due to its unique placement on the body, a smartwatch would be the ideal device for gesture controls. For example, a flick of the wrist would let you ignore a notification, while lifting the watch to your face might prompt it to open S Voice (Samsung's proprietary, Siri-like digital-assistant app).
Smart haptic feedback
Since their inception, mobile phones have bzzz bzzz bzzz'd with alerts for incoming calls, new voicemail, and social media notifications. However, a device that's touching your skin at all times would have the opportunity to use vibrations far more dynamically.
The Gear would get bonus points for using vibrations at different locations around the wrist to signify different things. For example, a new email message might prompt a buzzing on the bottom of the strap. Or perhaps when someone mentions you in a tweet, you would feel a circle of vibration around your wrist.
Easy secure mobile payments
The Gear should let you pay for your morning coffee simply by holding your wrist out to the counter clerk for a quick, easy transaction. A recent round of rumors suggests that the Gear will come equipped with NFC connectivity, indicating that mobile-payment functionality should at least be possible. Let's hope the device uses its NFC radio to do some tricks we haven't seen before.
Actions enabled across multiple devices
The smartwatch will be the newest screen to join our multiscreen lifestyles. As such, it would be great if you could, say, begin to read an email message on your Samsung smartwatch and then continue reading it on your tablet or laptop.
A one-click, top-notch camera
Due to a smartwatch's diminutive size, a mega-spec camera is unlikely to fit. Still, we'd like to see a camera with at least some brawn to it (VentureBeat says the watch will pack a 4-megapixel sensor). How many times have you missed a great photo because you had to dig out a phone from your pocket, unlock it, and open the camera app?
A Samsung smartwatch with concise one-step camera access could solve that problem.
Because of where the device lives, a smartwatch is subject to more elements of nature than a pocket-based phone. Therefore, we'd like to see a Galaxy-branded smartwatch that's at least as waterproof as the Galaxy S4 Active smartphone, which Samsung claims can survive being submerged for up to 30 minutes under 1 meter of water.
Design options--it is wearable tech, after all
A smartwatch is a far more visible accessory than a smartphone, so people are going to want design options to express their unique personalities. The Gear should not be a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Also, Samsung should keep in mind that men and women wear watches differently: Women tend to favor the smaller wrist ornamentation, while men don't mind sporting a big ol' behemoth. Samsung's designers would be wise to consider the wants and needs of female users, whom they have tended to disregard in the past.
Home security and control systems such as those from AT&T and Comcast commonly use smartphone apps to control devices and appliances inside the house. But a smartwatch might be an even better device for that. A couple of quick screen taps or gestures performed at the front door might be a good way to unlock the door, deactivate the security system, and turn on the lights--all without having to fish around for a smartphone.
What we know now
Back in July, Samsung submitted a U.S. trademark filing for "Samsung Galaxy Gear." The trademark is associated with "wearable digital electronic devices in the form of a wristwatch, wrist band, or bangle capable of providing access to the Internet and for sending and receiving phone calls, electronic mails and messages."
The filing goes on to describe a device that could be used for "the wireless receipt, storage and/or transmission of data and messages and for keeping track of or managing personal information; smart phones; tablet computers; portable computers."
Last week, Lee Young-Hee, Samsung's executive vice president, confirmed to the Korea Times that the company will indeed introduce "a new wearable concept device called Galaxy Gear at our own event in Berlin on Sept. 4." She went on to say: "The new device will enhance and enrich the current smart mobile experience in many ways. It will lead a new trend in smart mobile communications." She added that the Gear will not have a flexible display.
Keep tuned to this space tomorrow for our coverage of Samsung's formal announcement of the Gear.