|Gear smart watch, another screen to talk to
Nearly 70 years after Dick Tracy began wearing a two-way wrist radio in the funny pages, the technology that once seemed impossibly futuristic will be widely available by Christmas.
In Berlin, Germany, Samsung introduced a digital watch for the holiday season that will let users check messages with a glance at their wrists and have conversations secret agent-style.
The Gear goes on sale in the United States and Japan next month. The rest of the world will get it sooner, on September 25, with prices starting at US$299.
So-called smart watches have been around for several years. But so far, they have failed to attract much consumer interest. That may change, AP reports.
The Gear must be linked wirelessly with a smart phone to perform its full range of functions. It acts as an extension to the phone by discreetly alerting users to incoming messages and calls on its screen, which measures 1.63 inches diagonally.
“With Gear, you're able to make calls and receive calls without ever taking your phone out of your pocket,'' Pranav Mistry, a member of Samsung's design team, said in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show.
Sony and Qualcomm also introduced smart watches. Apple is expected to release its own smart watch.
Ramon Llamas, an analyst at research firm IDC, said many things have to go right for smart watches to succeed. Llamas said the devices need to offer a range of useful applications that justify carrying around _ and charging _ another digital device.
“It can't just be notifications of how many incoming messages you have,'' he said. “Health applications seem to be the low-hanging fruit.''
For starters, the Gear will work with sporting and fitness apps such as RunKeeper, which tracks runs and other workouts.
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi believes it ought to do more, such as monitor a user's pulse and other health information. Other sensors, she said, could also authenticate a user's identity when making payments or detect locations so users could share their whereabouts with their friends.
“The watch is smart, but not as smart as it could be,'' Milanesi said. “It doesn't look like Samsung pushed the envelope as much as I hope Apple will. Right now, it looks like [Gear] will just provide you with an extra screen that is more convenient to look at than to have to take out a larger device. I don't think that's what consumers want.''
The Gear uses Google's Android operating system, just like many of the phones and tablets made by the South Korean electronics company.
Mistry demonstrated the calling function on the Gear by holding it up to his ear and talking into a microphone in the watch. The watch then relays the call to a smart phone over a built-in Bluetooth connection.
The strap, which comes in six colors, holds a basic camera that can be used to shoot photos and video. When linked to a smart phone or tablet, the Gear lets people check emails and Facebook updates. Samsung said replies are possible through voice dictation. Voice commands can also be used for such tasks as setting alarms, creating calendar entries and checking the weather.
The Gear will be compatible initially with two Samsung products also unveiled Wednesday _ the Galaxy Note 3, a smart phone with a 5.7-inch screen and a digital pen, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a tablet computer with a 10.1-inch screen comparable to Apple's full-sized iPad. But Samsung promised to update other Galaxy phones and tablets to work with the Gear in the future.
The number of apps that work with the Gear is also still limited. More than 70 apps are supported, including Facebook, Twitter and RunKeeper. That compares with the hundreds of thousands available for leading smartphones.
Samsung only promises a full day's use out of the Gear before it has to be charged.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm didn't disclose a specific price or date for the Toq, beyond saying it will come out this year. Sony didn't provide many details about its SmartWatch 2 either. The focus of its announcement was a new smart phone with a high-resolution camera.