IT HAS arrived more than 30 years after the iconic calculator watch was seen on the wrists of everyone from Sting to Marty McFly, and is the latest generation of wristwatch with the ability to do far more than tell the time.
The most anticipated new technology of the year – a smartwatch that allows users to make calls and check messages with just a flick of the wrist – was unveiled yesterday by Samsung.
Billed as a “second screen” for a wearer’s smartphone and a technological mile away from its 1980s predecessor, the voice-controlled Galaxy Gear enables users to glance at their wrist for an update on messages, calls and social networking notifications – without having to power up a larger phone or tablet device.
Samsung described the device, launched yesterday at the Berlin IFA Tech show, Europe’s biggest technology showcase, as like “something out of sci-fi”.
“This is an exciting day for all of us at Samsung. We have created something incredible,” said Pranav Mistry, head of the firm’s think-tank team, speaking at the official press conference, which was held simultaneously with the product’s US launch in New York’s Times Square.
The gadget, launched alongside a new smartphone, the Galaxy Note 3, is the latest innovation to connect users to the internet without using a conventional phone handset. Earlier this year, Google launched Google Glass – a spectacles-style headset that connects to the internet using voice commands.
Samsung’s Gear has a camera, microphone and speakers built into the strap, allowing users to activate the device by voice and to answer calls without needing to remove their full-size phone from their pockets.
It is believed the product, which will run Google’s Android operating system and is due to be released worldwide on 25 September, will be the first of a string of smartwatches to be released by communications firms in the coming year.
But some early reviews of leaked prototypes branded it “chunky, with its rectangular shape and square screen”.
The watch is connected to the user’s smartphone and allows people to create reminders or ask questions using voice software. “It takes the entirety of your digital world and places it where you can see it with a single glance,” added Mr Mistry.
Scottish electronics entrepreneur and technology writer Josh Welensky said: “It is quite an exciting new venture, which is seen by some as big as when Apple unveiled the iPad.
“However, watches are going to be a slightly more difficult sell because there is not quite the same ‘usability improvement’ that there was with the creation of a tablet.”
The new product also features a gyro sensor that can be used with fitness apps to time sports activities. “If people can see a real health or sports benefit in this watch, it will be a major win for Samsung,” added Mr Welensky.
Other technology firms, including Sony, have also produced smartwatches, but these have been regarded as more of a remote screen for smartphones, without the interaction available on the Gear.
Analysts believe the smartwatch market is likely to prove lucrative. Research firm IHS previously claimed sales of wearable devices could reach 9.4 million units by 2016, while the market for wearable devices such as smartwatches and digital eyewear could be $50 billion (£32bn) by 2017, according to Credit Suisse.
Ernest Doku: Not sleek, but certainly smart
It has the potential to be revolutionary. The race to own the wrist has been ferocious in the last 12 months. After the crowd-funding success story Pebble and Nike’s fitness-tracking FuelBand, the biggest names seem eager to take the best of smartphone functionality out of the pocket.
To be useful, smartwatches must complement features of existing devices and add value. The ability to read e-mail with a flick of the arm or monitor your health with an app is great, but a cumbersome piece of silicon that does little more than duplicate a smartphone could be a tough sell.
The Galaxy Gear might be a tentative first step into an exciting new category, but rest assured it won’t be the last.
With wearable tech such as Google Glass already out there, expect to see more sleek, stylish – and most importantly smart – new gadgets.
• Ernest Doku is a telecoms expert at uSwitch.com.