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Samsung and Qualcomm fail to launch the smartwatch revolution

Mike Elgan | Sept. 9, 2013
Two new smartwatches are really relics from yesterday, not a glimpse of tomorrow.

Everybody's been waiting for the smartwatch revolution to begin, and for major companies (other than Sony) to unveil their long-awaited offerings in this new era of mobility.

Samsung announced this week their Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Qualcomm also announced a smartwatch called the Toq.

Press and pundits are treating these new entrants as the beginning of the revolution. But they're not. They're throwback, unserious relics from the past. They will both fail in the market. And they don't represent the awesome smartwatch lineup to come.

Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch
Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch comes in a range of colors but isn't likely to gain widespread acceptance, says Mike Elgan.

Samsung and Qualcomm aren't really trying
Smartwatches are nothing new. They've been around for years. In fact, many of these older smartwatches have been capable of playing videos, taking pictures and even making phone calls without connecting through a smartphone.

Despite some appealing features, these watches never caught on as mainstream devices for a variety of reasons. But the main reason is that they were just too big.

No matter what a smartwatch can do, no matter how much technology you pack into it, only a tiny minority of highly motivated geeks are going to walk around with a giant, dorky gadget lashed to their wrists.

But with Bluetooth Low Energy, lower-power screens, curved glass, curved batteries, better batteries and a lot of help from Moore's Law, we're finally at the point where smartwatches can be small enough and useful enough for mainstream acceptance.

These new technology developments are why the smartwatch revolution is coming now and why most major consumer electronics companies are finally getting into the smartphone business. For the first time, a smartwatch can be acceptably small. Small enough for a business man or woman to wear without looking absurd. Small enough for companies to sell into a mainstream consumer market.

The other reasons why the smartphone revolution is happening now is the convergence of several trends, including the rise of notifications, the quantified self and fitness computer movements and the existence of voice-based artificial intelligence virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now (You don't need a big screen for search results when a virtual assistant speaks the answer).

That's why it's forehead-slappingly dumb for both Samsung and Qualcomm to come out with smartwatches that are at least as big as the huge watches that failed because of their size, don't have quantified self sensors and don't have voice-based virtual assistant capabilities. (Pictures on this blog do a good job showing the size of the watch.)

 

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