Samsung and Qualcomm fail to launch the smartwatch revolution

Two new smartwatches are really relics from yesterday, not a glimpse of tomorrow

Everybody's been waiting for the smartwatch revolution to begin, and for major companies (other than Sony) to unveil their long-awaited offerings in this new era of mobility.

Samsung announced this week their Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Qualcomm also announced a smartwatch called the Toq.

Press and pundits are treating these new entrants as the beginning of the revolution. But they're not. They're throwback, unserious relics from the past. They will both fail in the market. And they don't represent the awesome smartwatch lineup to come.

Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch
Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch comes in a range of colors but isn't likely to gain widespread acceptance, says Mike Elgan.

Samsung and Qualcomm aren't really trying

Smartwatches are nothing new. They've been around for years. In fact, many of these older smartwatches have been capable of playing videos, taking pictures and even making phone calls without connecting through a smartphone.

Despite some appealing features, these watches never caught on as mainstream devices for a variety of reasons. But the main reason is that they were just too big.

No matter what a smartwatch can do, no matter how much technology you pack into it, only a tiny minority of highly motivated geeks are going to walk around with a giant, dorky gadget lashed to their wrists.

But with Bluetooth Low Energy, lower-power screens, curved glass, curved batteries, better batteries and a lot of help from Moore's Law, we're finally at the point where smartwatches can be small enough and useful enough for mainstream acceptance.

These new technology developments are why the smartwatch revolution is coming now and why most major consumer electronics companies are finally getting into the smartphone business. For the first time, a smartwatch can be acceptably small. Small enough for a business man or woman to wear without looking absurd. Small enough for companies to sell into a mainstream consumer market.

The other reasons why the smartphone revolution is happening now is the convergence of several trends, including the rise of notifications, the quantified self and fitness computer movements and the existence of voice-based artificial intelligence virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now (You don't need a big screen for search results when a virtual assistant speaks the answer).

That's why it's forehead-slappingly dumb for both Samsung and Qualcomm to come out with smartwatches that are at least as big as the huge watches that failed because of their size, don't have quantified self sensors and don't have voice-based virtual assistant capabilities. (Pictures on this blog do a good job showing the size of the watch.)

The Samsung Galaxy Gear is not part of the new smartphone movement, and it doesn't employ the elements of that movement. It's just a big dorky smartwatch that suffers from the same fatal flaws that have plagued the category for years.

In fact, Samsung isn't even trying to ignite, define or dominate the coming smartwatch revolution. Their Galaxy Gear watch is just an add-on gimmick for a tiny range of high-end Samsung phones and tablets.

The Galaxy Gear displays notifications from a phone or a tablet via Bluetooth, plays music, shows various watch faces, runs apps, takes photos and video and functions as a speakerphone and phone dialer. It's got a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED touch display at a resolution of 320 x 320 and a 1.9-megapixel camera built into the strap facing away from the 12-hand position of the clock. It's powered by a single-core 800MHz Exynos processor, has 512 MB of memory, 4 GB of storage and a 315-milliamp-hour lithium-ion battery. It comes in six colors. Out of the box, the Galaxy Gear has a few apps, with up to 70 to choose from in its store. It's scheduled to become available in the U.S. in October after being launched abroad Sept. 24.

Today, the Samsung Galaxy Gear, which requires a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone or tablet in order to function right, works with exactly zero phones -- literally incompatible with every phone ever sold.

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