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Sensors could prove the savior of smartwatches

Matt Hamblen | Sept. 6, 2013
New Galaxy Gear and Qualcomm Toq must have biometric sensors — and a lower price — to satisfy consumers, analysts say

Qualcomm also chose Wednesday to unveil the Toq smartwatch with a Mirasol display. The device is slated to ship in the fourth quarter.

Pricing plans for the Toq weren't disclosed, though some reports say it will cost more than $300. Toq has a major advantage over the Gear in that it will be compatible with mobile devices running Android 4.0.3 and above, and will offer "days of battery life," through wireless charging, according to Qualcomm.

Some early reviewers of the Galaxy Gear smartwatch noted that the device includes a voice dialer, a microphone and a speaker that relies on a Bluetooth-connected smartphone to make and take wireless calls. But with no headset, the Gear doesn't allow very private voice calls — the user must hold the smartwatch up to an ear, meaning that people nearby can overhear what the calling party is saying.

By comparison, the Toq has wireless stereo headphones for listening, but doesn't include a microphone.

McIntyre defended the Galaxy Gear as both a communications and sensing device. She cited its limited sensors — an accelerometer and gyroscope — though it lacks biometric sensors.

"Different vendors have different motivations for wearables, and when I think about what Samsung and even Sony are doing, they are driving more interest for their smartphones and phablets with their smartwatches," she said.

Samsung's new Galaxy Note 3, with a 5.7-in. display, as well as the new Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 tablet, will work over Bluetooth with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

"With a bigger-size screen like a tablet or phablet, one inhibitor to buying it is that customers need to pick it up constantly to check for a message or a call, which can be unwieldy," McIntyre said.

Surveys show that smartphone users check their devices an average of 20 times a day. "Having a smartwatch with those messages [transmitted via Bluetooth from the tablet or smartphone] is going to be quite convenient for consumers and a gives a great reason to drive sales of tablets," she said.

McIntyre also said there's room for U.S. carriers to bundle the Galaxy Gear with a new Note 3 and a data plan to lower the $299 cost.

"The $300 price sets Gear off as a premium device which has cachet and is not a utilitarian extra. But I would expect bundling deals so that if you sign a high-end data contract, you might get the smartwatch bundled for half or potentially zero," she said.

Gold and Rotman Epps are not impressed with a smartwatch that primarily extends the communications functions of a smartphone or tablet.

"What need does a smartwatch serve that isn't already met by all the other devices I have around me?" Gold asked recently.


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