Watchmaker, Watchmaker, Make Me an App

Eric Zeman
Feb. 25 2014, 11:52AM EST

Wearables were a hot trend at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show in Barcelona this week. No fewer than six devices made their debut, including fitness bands and full-on smartwatches. Without app support, however, these tools are little more than expensive jewelry.

Samsung announced three new devices, including the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit. The first two are smartwatches that share most features. The Gear 2 / Gear 2 Neo has a 1.63-inch screen, with 320 x 320 pixels; 1-GHz dual-core processor with 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage; Bluetooth (version 4.0 Low Energy); and a 300-mAh battery. Samsung says battery life has been improved from just 24 hours to two or three days. The only difference between the two smartwatches is that the Gear 2 Neo does not include a camera.

Image Credit: Samsung

A critical difference that sets the Gear 2 apart from the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch (released last year) is that Samsung dumped Google's Android platform in favor of its own Tizen operating system. Tizen is a Linux-based platform that Samsung and Intel have been working on for years. The platform switch means the original set of Gear-compatible apps need to be rewritten. It also means that any new apps for Samsung's Gear smartwatches have to be coded with Tizen and not Android.

Although the original Gear launched with about 80 apps, the new Gear 2 will have access to only a few dozen at launch. Samsung claims developers are clamoring to create apps for its new Tizen-based smartwatches. The initial list of third-party supporters includes CNN, Expedia, eBay, Evernote, Feedly, Path, PayPal, and The Weather Channel. Many of these developers created apps for the original Gear, so convincing them to recode their existing apps for Tizen probably didn't take too much prodding. Scoring support from smaller developers will be key.

The Gear Fit is a different story. It is more of a fitness band on steroids -- thanks to its curved touchscreen -- than it is a conventional smartwatch. Samsung did not say what operating system the Gear Fit uses but said that it has third-party app support on the way. Samsung was too shy to provide a list of initial supports for the Gear Fit.

Sony and Huawei both also debuted fitness bands at the MWC, including the SmartBand and TalkBand, respectively. Neither of these devices runs a traditional operating system that developers can target, but they will interact with smartphone apps. Sony and Huawei didn't provide details on how developers can incorporate their own apps/services into the fitness bands, but the smartphone apps will be based on Google's Android platform.

As the wearables market begins to take shape, it's time for developers to sit up and start paying attention. Opportunity abounds.

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for Programmable Web and other online properties.

Comments