Will the smartwatch usher in a new digital revolution
Is the smartphone, the rage of a generation of digiratis, on its way out? The death of today’s ubiquitous communication device is not prognosticated for some time yet, but already there are technologies that hint at the eventual diminishing of the smartphone’s usefulness. The latest proof of this came with the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. The Gear, due to reach Indian shop shelves on September 25, is a wrist watch that bears the burdensome imputation of being a “smart” device.
The Samsung watch is a smartphone on your wrist. It has a 1.63-inch screen and a 1.9-megapixel camera. It has a 512 MB memory and a 4 GB RAM and can link to a Samsung Galaxy phone wirelessly. Its Android operating system allows phone calls. It can be used for hands-free calls, to send messages and set alarms. You can download Android apps and can put the watch to other uses, like fitness tracking.
In unveiling its watch, the Korean company practically beat Apple to the tape. The Cupertino, California, maker of game-changing technologies has been working on a smartwatch for some time. Apple’s infamous penchant for secretive operations has stymied all attempts by nosy hacks to get details about the project, and there is little that has been revealed. An important clue, of course, came when Apple filed for trademark protection of the name “iWatch” in Japan in June.
Many experts feel that the real worth of a smartwatch as a personal device will depend on Apple’s watch. Perhaps, the acceptance of the smartwatch will also be strengthened if Microsoft comes up with one. Already, there is talk that the software giant, having acquired the handset division of Nokia, will mark the purchase with the production of a smartwatch.
The watch that does more than just tell time has fascinated device makers for some time now, and with sales of smartphones seemingly plateauing out, the smartwatch may be the next big leap for phone makers. Nokia has already tried its hand at a watch. Sony too launched its unimaginatively named Smartwatch last year, and has announced that a newer version, the Smartwatch 2, will reach stores this month. But the less-than- enthusiastic reception for the wrist watch that doubles up as a screen for the Android-powered Sony phone has surprised many. The Sony device, of course, suffered from a big disadvantage in that the users could not type in messages on the watch. It only has preformatted messages.
Other companies too have jumped on the bandwagon. Chipmaker Qualcomm Inc has its own wristwatch called the Toq, which uses the watch screen as a reading display for Android apps. Like the Sony watch, it too has limited use as a text messenger with its stock of pre-written responses. There is the Pebble too, which reads out basic text, shows the music tracks and, of course, displays the time. And like all of its ilk, it needs to hook up with a smartphone via Bluetooth for more functions. This is where Apple, Microsoft-Nokia and Google may change the idea of a wristwatch forever. Their watches may be truly smart and independent of a smartphone. Google has already patented a concept watch. What is more it has taken over California-based smartwatch maker WIMM Labs, which was among the first firms to ply the concept of a computer on the wrist with its Wimm One watch.
Technology market research firm ABI Research estimates that 1.2 million of such digital watches will be sold globally this year. The sales are likely to be around $370 million in terms of money.