Listen up, Samsung: Here's what a smartwatch needs to succeed

Samsung Smartwatch

The blogosphere's a-buzzin' with fresh word that Samsung might release its first official smartwatch, the so-called Galaxy Gear, at a media event in Berlin next week.

We've been hearing about the Galaxy Gear and its pending launch for some time now. So assuming the rumors are right, will Sammy be able to succeed where other manufacturers have failed and actually convince us a smartwatch is something we need?

Maybe -- but the company has its work cut out for it. If Samsung manages to hit these five key areas, it might stand a chance:

1. Style

Superficial as it may sound, a watch is also a fashion accessory. If it looks cheap, gaudy, or tacky -- either in its physical form or in what's on its screen -- people aren't going to want to wear it on their wrists.

2. Simplicity

This one may be the toughest for a company like Samsung -- which, let's face it, doesn't exactly have "restraint" in its design DNA.

Something like a watch needs to be absurdly simple and easy to use. On a screen that small, complex commands and clunky menus aren't going to make for a good user experience. The watch should be all about quick scanning and fast actions.

Speaking of which...

3. Smart notification management

Smartwatch Android Notifications

Here's where an Android-powered smartwatch could really shine: As of Android 4.1, system notifications are expandable and action-oriented. That means you can do things like see the sender, subject, and a snippet of text from an email -- and, equally important, opt to complete actions like archiving the email right from your notifications panel.

It's kind of assumed that a smartwatch will notify you about incoming messages, but if it goes a step further and gives you the same quick actions provided in Android, it'd go from being a take-it-or-leave-it novelty to being a valuable time-saver. (And those types of quick actions would work really well on a small screen, incidentally.)

Similarly wise would be supporting Android's new universal notification-syncing system so that notifications viewed on the watch would also vanish from your phone and any other connected devices. It's a seemingly small touch but one that'd make a big difference in user experience.

And here's real beauty of all this: If it's done right, any notification delivered from any app in Android would work with the watch in this scenario. You wouldn't be limited only to a small handful of specific apps designed to support proprietary software.

4. Smart input

Smartphone Voice Input

No one wants to peck out letters on a watch-sized keyboard. Where a smartwatch could be useful, though, would be if it let you tap into Google's ever-expanding Android Voice Search system. You could make calendar appointments, check on existing events, get detailed search info, and send emails or texts all by speaking into your watch.

Taking things a step further, imagine how cool that could be combined with Touchless Control a la the Moto X: You simply say "Okay, Google Now" (or whatever the phrase might be) and then issue your command into your watch -- no button-pressing or touching required.

You can do the same thing right now with a Moto X in your pocket, of course, but having any resulting visual info right on your wrist would be a very nice touch.

5. Smart sensors

This may seem obvious, but a watch is a perfect place for sensors that can enhance and supplement the functionality of your phone. Think Nike Fuelband sort of stuff. Why shouldn't a smartwatch do all of that?

The other advantage of building smart sensors into a watch is that the watch can then function on its own as a standalone device. Sure, it won't be able to deliver app-based notifications in that context, but it could provide the types of services you'd want while doing something like exercising, for example -- without requiring you to carry your phone.

Bonus: Smart context -- the real killer feature

This last one's a bonus -- a potential killer feature that could really make a smartwatch a must-have gadget. It's also something Samsung likely wouldn't be able to achieve -- something Google itself is in a fairly unique position to pull off at the moment.

I'm talking about context -- the ability to use a variety of data points to anticipate what you want and deliver it to you before you ask. In other words, the kind of stuff Google Now provides.

GigaOm's Kevin Tofel wrote a thoughtful piece discussing the benefits of having Google Now on your wrist, and he makes some pretty compelling points. For instance:

Pretend ... you’re walking around downtown when a reminder pops up because you’re near a food market. "Buy milk," your watch says. The watch knows you’re walking around and warns you of an upcoming weather change: Better get inside. Your next appointment pops up as a reminder, just in time for you attend. A little while later, the watch says: "Your spouse just left work and will be home in 35 minutes" followed by a reminder to leave work a little early because there’s traffic on the way home.

While those sorts of general cards could pop up on your phone via Google Now already, you'd have to be looking at your phone to see them. Just think how much more useful they'd be in a screen that gently buzzes and lights up on your wrist.

Android Power Twitter

If Samsung manages to pull off the first five points, it could have an intriguing new product on its hands. If and when Google steps up to the plate, though -- something that's been rumored to happen for a while -- well, that's when the smartwatch game could really get interesting.

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