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Watch this space: Samsung unveils the Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Thursday, 5 September 2013 | By Patrick Stafford

The war is on – after months of speculation, Samsung has announced the Galaxy Gear smartwatch in a move that will likely kick off a battle between major tech companies for domination in the long-awaited product category.


While the Galaxy Gear isn’t the first smartwatch to hit the market, early remarks from analysts have underlined a key point: Samsung’s announcement has proven this is an area where major consumer electronics companies will invest a lot of attention – and money.


Foad Fadaghi, research director at Telsyte, told SmartCompany this morning the release is a step forward for the smartwatch market – but there is no guarantee this will be a start-off success.


“There are going to be a slew of smartwatch and wearable computing devices,” he says. “This is a version 1.0 product from a vendor, and often consumers are wary of first generation products.


“We’re going to see more refinements of the product over time, and this is really a view of how products may look in the future.”


The Galaxy Gear was announced at a press event ahead of the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin, where the chief executive of Samsung’s mobile division, JK Shin, said the watch is “slimmer, lighter and more powerful and all in a beautiful design”.


He added Samsung wants the device to become a “fashion statement”.


The watch itself is slightly larger than a normal watch, with a rectangular touchscreen and several different coloured bands. The company showed off several features within the watch itself, including a 1.6-megapixel camera with the ability to record video, a pedometer, dozens of apps and WiFi capability.


The watch connects with a Samsung smartphone and can then forward call notification, texts and emails – you can even make calls through the device itself by holding it up to your ear.


Healthy living was also an important focus of the announcement, with Samsung showing off the pedometer functionality on the watch. Users are also able to create messages, create calendar entries and set alarms with the watch – and even take voice memos.


Other features include Bluetooth 4.0 and a 315mAh battery, which Samsung says will last “about a day”. However, it’s worth noting the device itself isn’t a phone – it needs to connect to another device to use those functions, and at this point, Samsung only promises two of its phones will be compatible.


"I can proudly say Galaxy Gear is a design statement, an engineering marvel and something that really redefines tomorrow,” Shin said at the event.


The device is set at $US299 and will be available September 25, although local details have yet to be announced.


But while the Galaxy Gear is a step forward for the infant smartwatch market, analysts have correctly pointed out consumers aren’t likely to latch on to the first product in an entirely new category yet – especially one that lacks features and universal smartphone sync features.


The importance of this morning’s announcement was to show the smartwatch form factor is actually viable.


TechCrunch’s Matt Burns wrote this morning that while users shouldn’t buy the Galaxy Gear, Samsung has still succeeded in creating a good looking product.


“Should you buy the Galaxy Gear? Nah, wait for the next one. Or Apple's smartwatch. That's what I'm going to do. A Pebble is good enough for me until then. But I still want this one. Well done, Samsung.”


Apple is reportedly working on its own smartwatch, which could be released as early as next week, but more likely within the next 12 months according to Apple’s “watch the market then react” schedule.


Foad Fadaghi says for now, there’s still plenty of time to wait and see what happens.


“We’re still yet to see whether or not people use these types of devices as a watch,” he says. “There are battery life concerns, as well as stylistic concerns for a lot of people.


“There are going to be refinements to this product category over time.”


Overall, however, reviews have been mixed to positive. Engadget wrote the device is “very much a first-generation device when it comes to usability”, while The Verge wrote the gadget produces “surprisingly decent pictures”.


This story first appeared on SmartCompany.