Samsung’s Dangerous Smart Watch Gamble

Next week, just before the IFA consumer electronics show opens in Berlin, Samsung is expected to introduce their first smart watch apparently called the Samsung Galaxy Gear. By my count, this will be at least the 14th smart watch introduced in the last 18 months. I have had a chance to work with and review at least six of these so far and members of my staff have reviewed at least two more recently.

One thing to note about all of these watches so far is that they are all rather big, not very stylish and to be truthful, aimed mostly at male geeks. I can’t even imagine any woman clamoring for any of these early models and suspect that Samsung’s version will be just as geeky as the others given the technology available today for use in building this first generation of smart watches.

Most of these new smart watches are focused on being an extension of our smart phones and delivering glanceable data or information tidbits from our smartphones on a wearable screen. After using a couple of smart watches with this feature I can attest that this is a very cool idea and in fact, the watch will most likely become the #1 wearable computer in the market over the next few years, trumping things like Google Glasses that may take a decade before it hits consumer stride.

Although I think Samsung’s smart watch may actually be cool in functionality, one thing I am pretty certain is that it will not be stylish and be attractive to anyone but male geeks. While Samsung has created stylish smartphones and tablets, let’s be honest here; this design basically copied Apple’s iPhone and iPad designs and literally rode Apple’s coattails into these markets.

This is where introducing a smart watch now is a real gamble for Samsung. I fear that they are rushing this to market so they can say they beat Apple to the market but their model will be very similar to the smart watches already available. Sure, they have a strong marketing machine and big bucks to try to drive this into the mainstream but Samsung’s track record in creating ground-breaking designs in any product is historically weak.

While creating a product for male geeks is not bad in itself if these male geeks buy them, there is one very key issue about watches that will prove problematic to Samsung and that is “stylish” designs. Watches are fashion statements and very little about functionality to most people.

I believe that this will be at the heart of Apple’s eventual smart watch in which functionality will be important but stylish design will be equally important to whatever they finally deliver to the market place. And it is doubtful that Apple does not understand the difference in style design between men and women and will factor this heavily in their actual product designs.

Notice that Apple is not rushing a product like this to market just so they can have skin in the game. If you look at Apple’s history, they usually wait to see if a product takes off and then, and only then, do they re-invent the product with an eye on form, function, design and eco system that lets them control and drive their products into a broader mass market. Apple did not invent MP3 players. They reinvented them. Apple did not invent smartphones. They reinvented them. And Apple did not invent the tablet. They reinvented it and along with their iPhone launched the post PC era.

I suspect that Samsung understands this and is taking a calculated gamble by introducing the Galaxy Gear now. However, I think it is a dangerous gamble. While smart watch functionality is cool, in watches, style and fashion play a key role in its ultimate success. By introducing something before Apple does it runs the risk of not even coming close to what Apple will deliver and in the end, Apple will do the Apple thing and reinvent the smart watch that transcends the geekiness of todays models and be the one that drives the smart watch wearable revolution to the masses.

Now they have to wait for the other shoe to drop from Apple and if history is our guide, copy Apple again if they really want to be a player in the smart watch wearable revolution for the masses.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

2 thoughts on “Samsung’s Dangerous Smart Watch Gamble”

  1. “Apple did not invent MP3 players. They reinvented them.”

    That’s my take too. I see the smart watch market as still comparable to the very early days of the MP3 revolution. The technology – and the user interface – isn’t there…yet.

    Time will tell if Apple can create another category like the iPod. But they certainly have nothing to fear from the current versions of the smart watches now making their appearance in the market place.

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