BitDepth#902 - September 10

An evaluation of Samsung's Gear smart watch and its prospects in defining a new market for wearable computing.
Is it good Gear?
A Samsung representative demonstrates the Gear and a paired Galaxy Note 3 in Berlin.
Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Samsung’s team seemed keen last Wednesday as they geared up to launch new product in advance of the IFA technology showcase in Berlin.
Representatives of the parent company and its European team walked briskly around in dark suits surveying the crowds outside of the Tempodrom, a stylish events auditorium in Kreuzberg, Berlin.

The lines for the launch show were tightly packed and the buzz in the crowd made it clear that Samsung was now very much a mobile technology force to be reckoned with.
The company would announce a lot that evening, and continued its announcements the next day at a press conference held in an island of readiness among the drilling and pounding proceeding apace at Messe exhibition hall.

Last Wednesday evening, its showcase announcement was the Galaxy Gear, a computing device for the wrist that really doesn’t want to be called a watch.
But the resemblance is unmistakeable.
Pranav Mistry, Head of the Think Tank Team at Samsung Research might have argued that “The future is not just about giving new shape and form to existing devices.”

But when it came to the Gear, he acknowledged that it was inspired by, “an object with simplicity on its face and craftsmanship at its heart.”
Above him on the huge display screen was a photo of a fine geared watch.

Samsung isn’t the first to release wrist technology this year. That honour goes to Sony, who recently announced the second generation of their Smartwatch, a much sleeker device that also runs the Android operating system.
Samsung’s Gear, however, has another mission. It communicates continuously via Bluetooth and near field communication (NFC) technologies with the company's flagship mobile devices, the Galaxy Note 3 and the newest edition of the Galaxy Note 10.4 tablets, tying the two pieces of tech into one networked node.

The Gear, for instance, can notify you that you have new mail on your Note device and show you the text, but when you open it on the Gear, it also opens on the Note device it’s paired to.
You can also use the Gear as an alternative to a cellphone earpiece.
“Just raise your hand to your ear, it’s such a natural gesture,” said Mistry, as the dapper young man did exactly that and earned a titter from the audience.

It is, of course, a perfectly natural thing to do if you’re Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt, otherwise it looks like you’re talking to your wrist, or maybe your entire forearm.
Much cooler is the Gear’s ability to respond to SVoice commands, which will put you in the much cooler position of raising your wrist to your mouth and casually whispering commands into it, much like we’ve all been waiting to do since Dick Tracy ran in the comics pages of this newspaper.

Among the phone’s features is a camera, no larger than a stud on the wrist strap, that captures images at 1.9 megapixels and 720P baseline HD.
This, Mistry said, was the “beginning of a new world of augmented reality.”
If the way that camera phones are used today is any indication, we can expect even more stealthy captures to find their way onto Facebook via this device.

The gear can run its own apps, and Android developers should have little trouble prepping existing software to run on the device.
Several were already on the showroom models, though Samsung doesn’t seem to have imposed particularly stringent design guidelines on developers. Native apps for the Gear are thick white outlines that work well with a small screen device you wear on your wrist while third party apps are in vivid colour with shading, which just makes them seem garish and sometimes unreadable by comparison.

Samsung’s Gear can justifiably claim first position among wearable computing devices that work in a network with our phones and tablets. Other companies are also preparing to test the waters, with major rumours circulating about the plans of Apple, the other major presence in the smartphone market.

But Samsung will face an uphill battle establishing a new market at a price of US$299. The company has done exactly that before with the Note, though, a phone that seemed just a bit too big to be successful but which has earned itself a profitable niche as the phablet of choice in the crowded smartphone market.
The future of this wrist device will depend on how quickly developers gear up to take advantage of the possibilities of the new technology.

Gear specs
800mhz processor
4GB memory/512MB RAM
1.9megapixel camera
320 x 320 pixel Super Amoled screen
Stainless steel construction
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