Samsung Galaxy Gear: Can a new wave of smartwatches succeed this time?

Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch is expected to be unveiled in just a few weeks - but can smartwatches really make an impact this time around?
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

We may soon find out if smartwatches will turn into the big money opportunity that many tech companies very much hope they could be, if Samsung unveils its new smartwatch, dubbed the Galaxy Gear, in early September.

The device will be unveiled on 4 September, according to a report by Bloomberg.

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The Android-powered device is reportedly able to make phone calls, surf the web and display email, which would make Samsung the first in a wave of big tech companies releasing such devices. Samsung's competitors Microsoft, Google, LG (and a host of smaller players) have also said they are working on such devices.

Many of these companies, including Samsung, have built smartwatches on-and-off for years (indeed, the first smartwatches appeared more than a decade ago) but with little success. The earlier devices in particular had limited functions, were large, heavy, and featured batteries that drained rapidly.

But now the stakes are higher, as the smartphone market — particularly in the US and Western Europe — becomes saturated and tech companies look at new form factors. The unexpected success of the Kickstarter-financed Pebble smartwatch and the rise of wristwatch-like fitness bands has reignited interest in smartwatches, as have ongoing rumours that Apple is working on a similar device.

Recent smartwatches have tended to function as a second screen for a smartphone — for example, offering a way of reading emails or other updates while the phone stays in the user's pocket. There are already plenty of smartwatches that actually exist — the Pebble being the most celebrated of these (and compatible with both iOS and Android devices) along with Sony's SmartWatch (the second iteration of which goes on sale in September too).

If smartwatches take off there could be implications for industries from healthcare (such devices could be effective at monitoring health) through to banking (mobile payments could be easier with a watch than a phone).

Nobody is entirely convinced that smartwatches will be a huge success (indeed, past history would suggest ongoing disappointment), but nobody wants to risk getting left behind, either. If Samsung's device is well received by consumers, the rest of the tech giants will accelerate their plans.

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