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Apple puts the big hurt on Samsung

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 2, 2015
2015 will be a challenging year for the Korean phone maker, but there are steps Samsung can take to reverse its declining market share.

Smartwatches and the Apple Watch
As if Samsung didn't have enough on its plate in competing with the iPhone, Apple is expected to launch its Apple Watch in April.

Samsung ought to be prepared for competition from the Apple Watch, having introduced six smartwatch models and smart fitness bands in just over a year. The latest smartwatch, introduced last August, was the Gear S, which is powered by the Tizen operating system, not the Android Wear OS that powered Samsung's previous Galaxy Gear S smartwatch.

The newer Gear S has a 2-in., curved Super AMOLED display with 360 x 480 resolution, but no camera as in earlier models. However, it is Samsung's first smartwatch with 3G cellular connectivity, allowing calls directly from the timepiece.

One big difference between the Gear S and the Apple Watch is that Apple will incorporate NFC (near-field communications) in its timepiece, which allows quick payments with Apple Pay. Kevin Harwood, a consultant for Mutual Mobile, which designs mobile products, said recently he expects the NFC in the Apple Watch to be a major selling point, and that Samsung might try to duplicate it.

The Tizen difference
With Tizen in its Gear S, Samsung is showing that it wants to find alternatives to Android. Samsung also has said it will use Tizen in its future smart TVs and recently launched the Samsung Z1 smartphone on Tizen in India.

Gold said Tizen, a lightweight operating system, makes sense from an embedded technology standpoint in TVs and smartwatches, but less sense for higher-end devices like smartphones. In the smaller devices, Tizen is more adaptable than Android and can run more efficiently with devices that have fewer or less sophisticated hardware components, he said.

Samsung has a deep knowledge of the Tizen OS and may be able to improve the user experience and performance while also using fewer hardware resources or even a smaller processor, Gold said.

But the biggest commercial benefit of the Tizen is that it gives Samsung an alternative to Android, and makes Samsung less dependent on Google. "Tizen gives Samsung differentiation, while Google will enforce much more uniformity across various manufacturers that want to use Android Wear for watches," Gold said.

Whether the Tizen difference resonates with smartwatch buyers is unclear. If Samsung can produce a smartwatch with superior battery life and at low cost with Tizen, it could be important. So far, battery life in smartwatches is limited, sometimes requiring daily recharging, depending on the model. As for cost, early-adopter smartwatch buyers have paid $300 or more, atop of the cost of a smartphone that gets paired via Bluetooth with the smartwatch.

Apple Watch legitimizes Samsung's smartwatches
The overall market for smartwatches is expected to be a small fraction of the smartphone market, but that doesn't mean it won't be an enormously important market to both Samsung and Apple.


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