How Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch can kick the first-gen blues

First-gen smartwatches such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear haven't gotten the best reviews, but they also haven't set the wearable industry back.

Though the Samsung Galaxy Gear and other wearable devices have been met with tepid adoption and poor reviews, it's too soon to tell whether these first-gen smartwatches have set the industry back.

When rumors of the Apple Watch surfaced, no one knew exactly what that device would be like, but consumers were excited about a new technology. Let's face it: For the last year and a half, smartphones and tablets have received only incremental improvements. The Apple Watch has yet to come, but other wearables have emerged such as those from Pebble, Basis and Samsung with its Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

The main focus of the smartwatch is to allow users to keep their phones in their pockets and perform simple tasks from the watch, such as reading notifications and email. Sounds great, right? However, the Galaxy Gear smartwatch and others have received some bad reviews and seen poor sales. Though these smartwatches have brought a new form factor to the forefront, they suffer from being first-to-market products. Next-gen smartwatches will have to learn from the Gear's missteps:

Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch
Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch must be tethered to another Samsung device.

The Gear is tethered. Users need to have a phone that is compatible with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch for it to work. Currently, the Gear only works with some Samsung devices: The Galaxy Note 2 and 3, S3 and S4, and the 2014 edition of the Note 10.1. For the Gear to be really valuable to me, I would like it to have some functionality on its own rather than being completely dependent on a Bluetooth connection to my smartphone.

The smartphone killed the regular watch. Many people have a watch but don't look at it or wear it because they read the time from a smartphone, computer or some other device. For some consumers, a smartwatch is redundant to the smartphone it relies on, and watches in general have become less popular because of smartphones.

It's nothing really new. There isn't any brand-new technology in the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. A new technology -- such as a hologram, a new component to gaming systems or a way to administer medicine -- would make the Gear a must-have device.

It comes with a high price tag. The price point on the Gear is too high for a device that offers users similar functionality to what they already have on their smartphones. For many people, the convenience of not having to take your phone out of your pocket to perform a couple of simple tasks isn't worth the almost-$300 price tag.

Basis smartwatch image
Wearables such as the Basis smartwatch allows users to perform simple tasks without taking out their phones.

There could be a whole host of other reasons that smartwatches haven't taken off yet. Perhaps users don't like the look of them, notifications don't work well or there aren't enough applications for the devices yet. But it's too early to tell whether or not the ho-hum performance of the Galaxy Gear smartwatch has set the wearable industry back -- especially because the devices could have practical applications for workers in some industries. For example, medical field personnel could get real-time text notifications without having to pull out their phones.

The smartwatch could be a viable platform that just needs more apps to make the devices innovative and useful. And the second iteration of these devices could make them worth the price tag for more consumers.

This was last published in January 2014

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What would you like to see from the next round of smartwatches?
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I'd like the watch to act as a functional phone, even when my phone is not in bluetooth range. If I have to bring my phone with me anyway, what's the point of the watch?
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Definitely agree with ehilgeman - having both a smartphone and a smartwatch seems redundant to me. It should be one or the other. And better looks would help (the new Pebble Steel SmartSeries watch seems to be a response to this).
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I LOVE my Gear smartwatch. I love the fact that I can do the basics on my watch. Getting notifications and calls on my watch are wonderful. Show pics of my kids to my friends is easy. I love the ease of use of the interface, which by design has lots of room for expansion. As for the price why don't you compare it to the hoi-ti toi-ti swiss made mechanical watch prices where all you get is time - maybe 3 time zones if you pay extra and maybe a date. My husband got a new fancy swiss watch and I got a smartwatch - roughly the same price. He gets the time I get to talk to my watch and have it tell my phone to do things for me.

As for the apps, I trust they will come. This is what I want from the next round of smart watches.
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Wearable-Health care solutions
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@gstrouthop Do you mean health monitoring as with Fitbit/Jawbone, etc., or something more comprehensive, that maybe ties in with a person's own health records?
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The very same as want on notebooks, tablets and smartphones:
1. replacing keyboard and mouse by direct mind control over the skin, as seen on artificial limb control - I touch the sensor and what I think is on the screen.
2. replacing screens by hologram - the size of watch, phone and notebook is no longer the limiting factor, as hologram can be 80" and 3D eventually.
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Constant awareness of my location, learning the things I care about and having them on display for a quick glance.   

With such limited screen real estate, allowing the user to customize the cycling of updates, how notifications and updates are visually represented, the home screen and the button actions are the top priorities.  
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I would like the watch to connect to the phone through the NFC sync function.
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- be able to "read" txt msgs and allow to reply by speech
- provide/"read" directions and traffic info
- waterproff
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google

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1. A remote connection to my phone, without range limitations. 
2. Hologram or similar to expand screen real estate.
3. A projector that can react to gestures on the projection.
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Simple 101 engineering: make sure the smartwatch can do at least WiFi (802.11ac). Then, speed up compression and GUI turnover.
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