Samsung has piped Apple to the post, showing off its new smartwatch at IFA in Berlin. Does this mean Samsung has won some kind of race to launch a watch before Apple?
Who said Apple had to be the first to launch a smartwatch? Actually, Samsung wasn't first anyway - Sony announced its SmartWatch 2 this June, there's also the Pebble and the I'm Watch, among others.
Being first isn't always best, as Apple has proven. Over the past thirteen years Apple has redefined three product categories: MP3 players with the iPod, smartphones with the iPhone, and tablets with the iPad. In each case Apple wasn’t the first to launch a product in the category, it was just the first to produce a product that worked well and had an interface that people understood.
All Apple needs to do is launch a device that redefines the smartwatch category and it will have a fourth 'reinvention' in its pocket - or on its wrist, rather.
Problems with battery life
Judging by Samsung's attempt at a smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, it doesn't look like Apple should be too concerned about Samsung getting there first. The Gear highlights many of the big issues associated with wearable technology right now. Top of the list is the challenge manufacturers face meeting the power requirements of these small devices without sacrificing battery life and affordability.
Charge the Galaxy Gear battery and it should be good for a day. Given that watches typically last for years between charges we think that this will disappoint. It's not as if other smartwatches can't beat this: the Pebble offers about a week per charge.
It's one thing to charge your phone every night but having to charge your watch every day is unacceptable, as is the chance that your watch might run out of battery before the end of the day.
While Apple is probably looking for ways to maximise the amount of battery life it can get out of its rumoured iWatch, Samsung went for a full colour 1.6in AMOLED screen that will suck even more power. We've yet to see how this screen fairs in bright sunshine.
Apple will, no doubt, be looking to offload the processing and connectivity issues to the iPhone, Samsung, on the other hand, speced the Gear up with a 800MHz processor.
The smartwatch with a smartphone brain
To be successful we think wearable devices will need to be small and inexpensive. In Apple's case the iPhone will provide the power. We believe the iPhone will be the brain of the iWatch. It will provide the power, storage and the data connection. Your wearable device won't need cellular connectivity because your phone will provide that. Your wearable device will connect to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and you will be able to connect to the internet, or call friends and actually speak to them, via that connection.
That's not to say that Samsung's Galaxy Gear doesn't need an accompanying smartphone. For now it will work in conjunction with only one Samsung smartphone - the Galaxy Note 3 and when it is connected via Bluetooth with that Samsung smartphone it will be able to send and receive calls.In the case of the Galaxy Gear you will be able to make calls, but you will have to hold the watch up to your ear in order to hear the person calling.
The Galaxy Gear smartwatch will also be able to display texts and emails from the phone as well as run a bunch of specially-designed apps. You'll be able to reply to messages via a voice-to-text feature, we haven't been able to test that yet.
Voice recognition is an essential feature for a smartwatch and Apple already has it under its hat. With such a small screen it will be essential that the device has the ability to accurately understand and transcribe your voice input. Siri will provide that technology via the iPhone in your pocket.
The Gear also has a 1.9 megapixel camera integrated into the strap a built-in microphone and a speaker – it can even shoot video so you can pretend to be a detective (beyond that we're not sure what the point is). All this makes it rather chunky. We think it's going to be a bit too big for small wrists.
Bigger or smaller screens?
Would a smaller screen be better? Given the race among smartphone manufacturers right now to make bigger and better screens it seems contradictory that we would start to move towards even smaller screens. But if a smartwatch is only usable if it has a bigger screen then why not use the smartphone in your pocket?
This leads us onto the big question. Who even wants a smartwatch? What is the point of wearing a second screen on your wrist? Do we need our watch to tell us any more than the time? Perhaps its more about what the watch can tell your smartphone about you.
We think that the smartphone of the future will be a device that stays in your pocket acting as a server for your wearable devices, be they a watch, glasses, a heart rate monitor, other health related sensor, or even a chip in your brain.
These wearable devices will become like personal assistants, anticipating your every need, but they will be powered by your smartphone.
If anyone is going to make this work it will be Apple – the only technology company that makes the hardware as well as the software.
Samsung's Galaxy Gear is supposed to hit shops on 25 September and will cost $299 – no UK price has been announced.
Waiting for Apple's iWatch? For now, why not just dig out your iPod nano and wrist strap. We think it's better than anything Samsung has to offer.
Do you think Apple should be worried about Samsung's smartwatch? We think that in its rush to get a watch out before Apple, Samsung's not proving anything (other than when Apple's not there to copy it's lost!)