WITH a flexible screen that bends around the wrist and allows its wearer to browse online or make a phonecall, it is a device which promises to take horology into the 21st century.
Electronics giant Samsung has unveiled a series of tentative blueprints that will transform the humble wristwatch into a multimedia centre.
The South Korean company has filed patents for watch designs featuring a pliable screen which can be controlled by touchpad keys ordinarily found on smartphones.
With the smartwatch tipped to become the most popular mass-market consumer electronic device since the tablet computer, the firm appears intent to rival the likes of Google, Apple and Sony in an attempt to win over customers looking for more than a big hand and a little hand.
Samsung’s designs suggest its watch will be able to make and receive phonecalls, send e-mails and texts, and access the internet.
The patents, revealed by South Korean website Moveplayer, involve three slightly different watch designs filed since the start of the year – all made out of metals, glass and synthetic materials.
They indicate the watch’s screen will cover half of the device, with a keypad, power button and speaker.
Although the designs only point to a possible prototype, the company already has a name in mind, having registered the names Samsung Gear in South Korea and Samsung Galaxy Gear in the United States.
Lee Young Hee, Samsung’s executive vice-president, confirmed in spring that the firm’s mobile division had been working on a smartwatch, but Chenny Kim, a spokesman for the company, declined to comment on the patent applications yesterday, amid rumours that its watch could be unveiled as early as next month at an electronics conference in Berlin.
While the firm is eager to avoid a repeat of the smartphone era, when it was forced to play catch-up to Apple, experts remain divided on whether there is sufficient appetite for smartwatches given the abundance of personal technology already available.
Canalys, an international technology analyst firm, predicts the market for the new watches will capture the public’s imagination, particularly given its implications for those who participate in sport and exercise.
It suggests as many as five million smartwatches will be shipped by various manufacturers by the end of 2014. Chris Jones, vice-president of the firm, said: “Smartwatches will be the most important new product category in consumer electronics since the iPad defined the market for tablets.”
However, market research company carried out a survey in which only a small minority of consumers showed interest in the proposed features, with around one in seven (14 per cent) stating they might use a smartwatch for telephone calls.
A mere 7 per cent said they would use it for online pursuits such as accessing social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Rivals race against time to deliver gadgets
SAMSUNG is not the only consumer electronics giant about to enter the smartwatch market.
Apple has been widely tipped to be working on a series of new devices, from watches to televisions. It is thought to have around 50 employees devoted to creating the oft-mooted iWatch, which would be the first truly unique device launched since the death of its co-founder, Steve Jobs.
Microsoft is also said to be testing a smartwatch featuring removable wristbands in different colours. The watch would be capable of running its Windows 8 operating system. It is understood that engineers and designers from its Surface tablet have now been tasked with bringing the wearable technology to the marketplace.
As part of its gradual shift away from the web towards hardware, Google is believed to be working on its own smartwatch based around its Android operating system. Having taken steps into the wearable technology field with Google Glass, the firm may have the experience required to make it a success.
Sony announced its Smartwatch 2 in June, and it is expected to be available to buy in September, leading many to believe it is one step ahead in the race for market domination. But the device is unlikely to be as powerful as those of its rivals. The firm has said the watch will act as an “accessory” that will interact with a user’s smartphone, akin to a remote control.