IFA 2015: Smartwatches need apps to succeed

  • Compatibility across platforms needed in order to succeed in wearables market
  • Samsung offers first round smartwatch, Motorola focuses on personalization

WEARABLES were once again in the spotlight during last week’s IFA 2015 technology show in Berlin, with vendors Samsung Electronics’ new Gear S2 and Motorola’s second generation Moto 360 generating the largest buzz, if online news articles and hands-on videos are anything to go by.

Samsung Gear S2 goes full circle

IFA 2015: Smartwatches need apps to succeed

Samsung already has about half a dozen Gear-branded smartwatches in its portfolio, but the Gear S2 and Gear S2 classic are the company’s first ones to feature a stainless steel round design.

As such, they look far more like typical wrist watches rather than the rectangular geek-tech it churned out in the past.

The Gear S2, available in dark gray and silver colours, comes with plastic watch bands which can be removed and replaced with other designs to suit your style.

The Gear S2 classic (pic, below) on the other hand is fitted with lugs for a black leather strap and looks like a traditional timepiece.

IFA 2015: Smartwatches need apps to succeed

Both models come with a unique rotating bezel which can be turned in both directions in order to interact with the user interface, featuring round icons arranged in a circle on the edge of the display.

This feature is clearly a highlight according to feedback from the media, and has been compared to the Apple Watch’s digital crown as an innovative way to interact with the watch.

IFA 2015: Smartwatches need apps to succeed

A low profile home button and a back button on the right side of the watch provides additional physical input.

Beneath that interface is Samsung’s Tizen OS which, for the first time is compatible with smartphones running Android 4.4 (KitKat) and have at least 1.6 GB of memory.

Some features however, remain exclusive to the company’s Galaxy smartphones, like the Samsung Pay mobile payment service which utilizes NFC (near-field communication) connectivity.

A report has even surfaced, saying that Samsung is “actively looking” to open up its new wearable to the Apple iOS platform.  This would be similar to Google’s recent decision to allow its Android Wear smartwatches to play nice with iPhones.

This cross-platform compatibility, according to IDC Asia Pacific’s senior analyst Kenneth Liew, is a step in the right direction.  “In order for Samsung or any other vendors to be a winner in this space, they need to make the watch OS agnostic so that they can cater to a larger audience,” he told Digital News Asia in an e-mail.

“The killer apps have to work across different systems out there, like payments, transport, etc.  Getting the whole ecosystem to work together is key for smartwatches to take off.”

On its website, Samsung highlighted apps from Nike, Twitter, Line and Volkswagen, among others, as partners who have created apps for the watch.

Liew believes smartwatch apps are key simply because consumers haven’t figured out what they want to do with a wearable.  “Consumers are still exploring the right usage of it and the different offerings out in the market caters to different needs and taste in terms of design,” he said.

“At present, having the smartphone to process the applications and the smartwatch to receive notifications or instructions, might be the right combination or not.”

On the hardware side, a slew of sensors have been included to track your health.  A heart rate monitor, barometer, accelerometer and gyroscope will work together to measure your pulse, activity levels and steps taken, including those you’ve climbed. 

Battery life has been one of the biggest challenges for smartwatches, but Samsung is claiming 2 to 3 days of usage for the Gear S2 before it needs to be recharged, which is better than the 1 and a half days you typically get with current models.

Juicing up the battery has also been made easier through the use of a wireless charging dock.

The Gear S2 is available in both Bluetooth and 3G versions.  The 3G model can be used as a standalone cellular terminal so you can make calls and send and receive messages on the watch, without the need to pair up with a smartphone.

Samsung didn’t announce a price at IFA but the Gear S2 (Bluetooth model) has showed up recently on a German retailer’s website on pre-order for €379 (US$420), while the Gear S2 classic is priced at €449 (US$500).

Moto 360 is all about personalization 

IFA 2015: Smartwatches need apps to succeed                          

Compared to Samsung, Motorola’s updated Moto 360 didn’t stray too far from the original round faced smartwatch running on Android Wear.

Aside from moving the crown to a 2 o-clock position from the 3 o-clock position before and a better processor, it maintains the same amount of memory, screen resolution and the round display with the ‘flat tire’ look due to a small bezel area which straightens the display below rather than keeping it as a full circle.

The company instead focused on the ability to personalize and customize the watch with a variety of sizes for the watch face and bands, as well as colours and materials for the bands, which essentially opens up the appeal of the wearable to a whole group of fashion-conscious buyers.

The new Moto 360 now comes in three different sizes – a large 46mm model paired with a 22mm band, a smaller 42mm model with a 20mm band, as well as a 42mm model with a thinner 16mm band.

Unlike the previous model, the watch face now comes with lugs to attach the bands, which is why the 42mm model has 2 different types, differentiated through the size of the lugs.

On the Moto Maker website, you can customize the Moto 360 with different choices of bezels (Peak, Chamfer, Micro Cut and Micro Knurl), case colours (Silver, Rose Gold and Gold), band material (Leather, Double Wrap Leather and Metal) and different band colours as well.

Prices for the new model can range from US$300-$450 depending on the size, colour and material of the watch.

Liew said this will help cater to people with different tastes, but for him, the newly announced Moto 360 Sport, a sweat-resistant smartwatch targeted at active lifestyle users is the one to look out for. 

IFA 2015: Smartwatches need apps to succeed

“I am especially impressed with the Moto 360 sport with the built in GPS (Global Positioning System). This will help to target a big market of GPS fitness watch users.

“This group of users have traditionally bought GPS fitness watches from makers like Garmin, TomTom and Polar.  With the Moto 360 Sport, this group of users will have more choices if they want a smartwatch to double as their GPS watches,” he noted.

The GPS data will work with apps like Runtastic and Ghost Racer, which helps track your distance and route while you’re cycling or running, without the need for a smartphone.

The data can also be used by the company’s own Moto Body health app which stores information on your activity levels and heart rate from the built-in heart rate monitor.

The Moto 360 Sport’s watch case and band are constructed as a single piece made from silicon, and includes an enhanced display technology dubbed ‘AnyLight’, which Motorola claims is easier to see under bright sunlight.

No pricing or availability however has been announced for this model.

Related Stories:
Google launches Android Wear … for the iPhone!

DNA Test: Sony’s Smartwatch 3 moves from sports zero to stylish hero

Apple Watch: Analysts predict 10mil units to be sold in 2015

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