When Samsung announced the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, it appeared to confirm something we had feared: that the watch would only be compatible with specific Samsung devices, rather than the sort of broad compatibility we see with watches like the Pebble. As we begin to learn more about the smartwatch, however, it’s becoming clear that the reality of the situation is a bit more complicated than just that, and we very well should be seeing the Galaxy Gear working with non-Samsung phones in the future.
As explained by Samsung’s Ryan Bidan, Gear compatibility is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you need phones that support Bluetooth 4.0 LE, which requires not just compatible hardware, but the need for Android 4.3. Then there also needs to be software support in place for Samsung’s Gear APIs, used to launch apps on the watch.
While this report certainly gives the impression that Samsung intends to open this API to other phones, we’re still a little concerned that Samsung hasn’t plainly said as much – even with this new information, there still seems to be a little reading between the lines going on. There’s also the issue that a lot of Gear functionality seems innately tied to Samsung and its various S-apps, ones not available on phones from other manufacturers.
We’re also a bit confused about the requirement for Bluetooth 4.0. Watches like the Pebble have been designed to also use more common Bluetooth protocols, greatly enhancing their compatibility. Bluetooth 4.0 LE makes sense for super-low-power-consumption uses, like HTC’s Fetch with its six months battery life. The Galaxy Gear only lasts mere hours on a charge, by comparison. It just doesn’t feel like the sort of product where 4.0 LE support should be a requirement for use.