Samsung unveiled a new piece of wearable technology Wednesday that it is calling the Galaxy Gear. The device, which is worn like a wristwatch, connects wirelessly to a Samsung phone and features fitness and social media applications and a camera. Youkyung Lee of the Associated Press found the device easy to use:
The Gear’s display is a touch screen measuring 1.63 inches diagonally. Its strap has an embedded camera. The Gear supports apps such as Facebook and lets the wearer answer incoming calls or check e-mail without picking up the smartphone that’s paired with it. . . .
I can imagine wearing the Gear with a casual dress or a formal outfit. It is sleek, with a thin metallic bezel surrounding the display. The strap comes in six different colors — black, gray, orange, beige, gold and green. But the screen, which is pitch black in idle mode, probably draws more attention than a tasteful accessory should. The dark recess in the strap where the camera’s lens is embedded will also elicit questions from the curious.
In terms of what the Gear can do, the three features I tested worked efficiently. It was easy to activate the camera and quick to shoot a photo. It left both hands free while placing and answering calls. The Gear alerted me with a nice soft buzz and showed a preview of a newly arrived e-mail. The full message can also be read. Samsung says replies are possible through voice dictation.
Taking photos felt natural except at very high or low angles, which forced the wrist into an awkward position.
I found easy navigation of the touch screen one of the device’s biggest pluses. Samsung has dispensed with buttons on the screen, so there’s no home or back button. There is a button on the top right edge of the smartwatch face. Pressing it turns the display into a clock. One tap anywhere on the screen takes and saves a photo in the Gear and the smartphone that’s paired with it. In clock mode, one swipe from bottom to top pulls up a numeric keypad.
Samsung’s investment in the Gear is part of the company’s strategy for dealing with saturated markets, writes Hayley Tsukayama:
There’s no doubt that the South Korean company’s mobile communications unit has been on an incredible growth spurt over the past few years. Worldwide, according to the analysis firm IDC, the company commands a 30 percent share of the smartphone market as compared to the 13 percent claimed by its chief rival, Apple.
But even at the top of industry, the company is facing the same problems that plague all smartphone makers as market shifts eat into profits. In July, Samsung showed slower-than-expected profit growth, which analysts said are likely because more advanced smartphone markets such as the United States are becoming saturated.
That, in turn, makes it harder to sell the most expensive, and profitable, phones, since the cool factor alone may not be enough to woo customers. Samsung has weathered this trend by using its manufacturing expertise — the conglomerate makes everything from dryers to computer chips — to produce a range of smartphones and tablets to appeal to multiple price points.
But it’s also spurred the company to focus on becoming a firm that can make the “next big thing,” a phrase the company has adopted as its promotional tagline.
To that end, Samsung is placing a bet on a new product category, wearable technology. There’s certainly potential for wearables, which have already caught on in the form of fitness trackers such as the Nike FuelBand. Analysts have predicted that wearables could sell as many as 9.6 million units worldwide by the end of 2016.
Lydia DePillis writes that Samsung’s diversified approach in many markets beyond phones has benefited both the company and South Korea:
An economic omnivore that’s so closely identified with the national identity of South Korea that citizens sometimes call their country the “Republic of Samsung,” the company operates businesses from hotels and amusement parks to road construction and oil rigs at home, while selling a diverse range of electronics abroad. Companies that large can also get siloed and complacent, but Samsung has stayed ahead of its global competition on several fronts. Its CEO tells its employees to operate in a state of perpetual crisis. “The positions we currently hold will be obsolete and untenable 10 years from now,” reads its 2011 corporate profile. “Across global business, attachment to laurels is folly. Staying comfortable and motionless is not an affordable luxury.”
Sure, it’s true that Samsung arose from pretty different circumstances: The chaebol system, under which giant companies were given favored treatment by the state. There are plenty of criticisms of such mega-corporations, which tend to have insidious power over governments, and also discourage entrepreneurs from starting their own competitors. But it’s hard to argue with the model’s business success. And if you’re going to anchor your economy with one big company, it might as well be one that’s diversified, and therefore less vulnerable to a bad strategic call or two.
Samsung will begin shipping the Gear this month.