The Washington Post

Samsung developing wristwatch, looks to get ahead of Apple

A woman stands behind a Samsung logo at Samsung Electronics Co. showroom inside its headquarters in Seoul, Feb. 1, 2013. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

A Samsung executive has told Bloomberg that his company, too, is developing a smart watch that could set up yet another product war with its smartphone rival, Apple.

Lee Young Hee, the executive vice president of the Korean firm’s mobile business, told Bloomberg that the company has been developing a wristwatch for a while, and that it’s one of the new products Samsung is preparing for the future. Lee did not, however, elaborate on what kind of features the watch could have when Samsung puts the product on the market.

This confirmation from Samsung comes as speculation mounts that Apple is working on a smart watch of its own, which analysts have dubbed the “iWatch,” which is expected to work with Apple smartphones and other devices. That goes beyond what Apple’s already done in the watch space — namely offer watch faces for the iPod Nano, for which some Apple enthusiasts had developed watch band accessories.

A new version of the iPod Nano introduced last year, however, no longer has a form factor that works well for a watch.

Samsung actually has a history of making smart watch devices, most recently with an ill-fated gadget it called the S9110 watchphone that debuted in 2009 with a 1.76-inch touch screen, Bluetooth connectivity and was about a half-inch thick. The company introduced its first watch phone in 1999, the SPH-WP10, when the company bragged that it was the first to put this sort of device on the market.

On the software side, both Apple and Samsung have already added features to their smartphones that could translate easily to devices worn on the wrist, such as the capability to be used as a pedometer or compass. Bloomberg noted that whoever moves more quickly into the watch space could snap up a serious advantage, since a watch is the kind of device that could have its own halo effect — one that consumers will want to have sync with other devices and could translate to better sales in smartphones, tablets, televisions and PCs.

Features such as the ability to read e-mail and text messages, take incoming calls, look up maps and check the weather are some of the most important features consumers are looking for in a high-tech watch, according to a survey released Tuesday from the tech product review site BuyVia. The survey, focused particularly on what users would want from an Apple iWatch, also found that WiFi capability would be a must for the device.

Wearable technology is a growing area of interest for technology firms, particularly as people increase the amount of time they spend with Internet-connected devices. Interest in the Pebble smart watch, an early star from the Kickstarter crowdfunding site, has demonstrated there’s some interest in multi-function watches. There’s also been considerable growth in the wearable technology space due to the popularity of fitness trackers such as the Jawbone UP or the range of health, sleep and fitness trackers from Fitbit.

Still, it’s not clear how a wearable watch would fit into everyone’s lives. Only 26 percent of those surveyed by BuyVia said they would definitely buy an Apple watch, while 36 percent said they were unsure whether they would or not. And 38 percent of respondents said they would not be interested in buying an Apple watch at all.

Related stories:

Samsung developing Apple ‘iWatch’ competitor

Samsung appoints new co-CEOs

Apple seen raising dividend by more than 50%

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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