Samsung today announced the Gear S, a new smartwatch with impressive specs and some novel features. The device may be tempting for both consumers and developers, but Samsung's smartwatch strategy is anything but sound.
The Gear S's primary feature is the ability to make and receive phone calls separate from an accompanying smartphone. It has its own 3G radio buried inside, which can talk to wireless networks around the world. There's no word on how much it will cost to add a service plan to the Gear S, but I wouldn't expect to be able to make calls for free. Thanks to 3G, the Gear S can also send and receive text messages without a nearby smartphone. Samsung says the device can be paired with a smartphone if you wish, and can be used to act on a variety of notifications with various smartphone-based apps.
The Gear S's hardware is lustworthy. It has a large, curved AMOLED touch screen that measures 2.0 inches and includes 480 x 320 pixels. That resolution matches some smartphones. It has a dual-core 1.0 GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, and a 300mAh battery good for two days of use. It has its own music player, which means you can listen on the go without towing your smartphone along.
This is all well and good, but the device uses Samsung's Tizen platform. Samsung insists Tizen has a future, despite the fact that its has delayed plans to launch a Tizen-based phone indefinitely. Why has Samsung put its Tizen phone on hold? Why, because there aren't enough apps, that's why. Samsung says it is waiting for the app ecosystem to shore up before releasing a phone. If Samsung isn't yet confident in its homegrown platform, there's little reason for others - including developers - to support it.
In contrast, LG announced the G Watch R. LG's smartwatch relies on the Android Wear platform, which is obviously backed by Google. Google has created a separate section of the Play Store to highlight and sell Android Wear-compatible apps. There's no word on how many Android Wear apps are available yet, but the number is surely primed to grow quickly. LG's watch is its second Android Wear device. There will be others, no doubt.
Competition in the market is good, but developers can only stretch resources so far. There are already a half-dozen smartphone operating systems in the market, and now there are three major smartwatch operating systems (a fourth, from Apple, is likely to arrive soon). The question for developers becomes one of which platform to support. As is often the case, developers will focus on where the money is. Right now, it's hard to tell which platform offers the best-case scenario to make a buck. It doesn't take a rocket scientist, however, to see that the platforms backed by Google and Apple may eventually prevail.