Sensors could prove the savior of smartwatches

New Galaxy Gear and Qualcomm Toq must have biometric sensors -- and a lower price -- to satisfy consumers, analysts say

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By comparison, the Toq has wireless stereo headphones for listening, but doesn't include a microphone.

McIntyre defended the Galaxy Gear as both a communications and sensing device. She cited its limited sensors -- an accelerometer and gyroscope -- though it lacks biometric sensors.

"Different vendors have different motivations for wearables, and when I think about what Samsung and even Sony are doing, they are driving more interest for their smartphones and phablets with their smartwatches," she said.

Samsung's new Galaxy Note 3, with a 5.7-in. display, as well as the new Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 tablet, will work over Bluetooth with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

"With a bigger-size screen like a tablet or phablet, one inhibitor to buying it is that customers need to pick it up constantly to check for a message or a call, which can be unwieldy," McIntyre said.

Surveys show that smartphone users check their devices an average of 20 times a day. "Having a smartwatch with those messages [transmitted via Bluetooth from the tablet or smartphone] is going to be quite convenient for consumers and a gives a great reason to drive sales of tablets," she said.

McIntyre also said there's room for U.S. carriers to bundle the Galaxy Gear with a new Note 3 and a data plan to lower the $299 cost.

"The $300 price sets Gear off as a premium device which has cachet and is not a utilitarian extra. But I would expect bundling deals so that if you sign a high-end data contract, you might get the smartwatch bundled for half or potentially zero," she said.

Gold and Rotman Epps are not impressed with a smartwatch that primarily extends the communications functions of a smartphone or tablet.

"What need does a smartwatch serve that isn't already met by all the other devices I have around me?" Gold asked recently.

In a research note, Gold wrote: "Smartwatches could be hugely successful if we change our expectations. We need to change the conversation and address the whole notion of wearable devices in general. We should not be looking at duplication in functions worn on another part of your body. Rather, if I look at wearable devices as part of a personal sensor network and not just a remote window to my phone, that would have far great value and one I'd be willing to pay for."

A personal sensor network could monitor a person's health while working out or the status of a person with a medical condition. The data could easily be transmitted to a doctor, Gold said. Sensors could let users see how many calories they consume or burn, and they could be used to monitor blood pressure, sugar and oxygen levels.

Also, sensors can work with GPS and other location technology to offer driving directions or even directions inside of a large building. The smartphone would remain the communications hub, Gold said.

Smartwatches are not the future, but wearable tech "could be a huge success," Gold said.

"As Apple, Samsung and others bring devices to market and support real standards for interconnection, hopefully [wearable technology] will be where they direct their investments," he added

Gold's prediction is as stark as can be: "I'd bet many upcoming smartwatches won't be around a year after they are released, while true wearables offering additional benefits will."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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