The wearable space has greatly matured since this time last year.
Pebble, for one, grew from the gauche, all-plastic smartwatch behind the most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time, to a finely machined luxury watch made of marine grade stainless steel with a blossoming ecosystem of applications and a dedicated development community and fan base.
But that’s hardly the only wearables development of the past year.
The idea of wearables and, more specifically, smartwatches became more mainstream; Google Glass started spreading about the tech space; Google purchased WIMM Labs; Sony released its second-generation smartwatch; and hundreds of thousands have started to buy into the idea of fastening a bit of technology to extremities for quickly digestible information and a sort of real life heads-up display.
At first glance, it was an impressive leap for the smartwatch category, featuring things like a camera, microphone for voice input, applications, and a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display with a 320 by 320 pixel resolution. You could place and receive calls via the Galaxy Gear, despite not being a standalone device. Basically, it opened a door for a whole new level of functionality for smartwatches.
On paper, between its toughest competition, the Galaxy Gear was the clear winner. The specs were better, it had better functionality, better build quality and design, and it was, after all, an impressive feat, especially for how quickly Samsung threw it together.
In actuality, the Galaxy Gear wasn’t nearly the spectacle everyone expected. In fact, it was far from that.
Samsung missed several finer points in making a smartwatch, such as functional notifications. If a wrist-mounted notification device only tells you that you have received new notifications, not what those notifications actually say, it’s not actually all that useful. You still had to pull the phone out of your pocket to see if the notification was worth attending to right away. Further, the UI was an unintuitive nightmare. And it was (and still is) limited to Samsung’s Android-powered smartphones. Fortunately, those issues have since been snuffed out with software updates.
Above all, however, Samsung missed the mark on arguably the most important factor of all: price.
You could argue that the $299 original asking price of the Galaxy Gear was justified, based on it being a brand new technology, the superior build quality and design, the specifications, the extended functionality, etc. But at the end of the day, Galaxy Gear was still just an accessory – an unfinished one at that. It was buggy, unrefined, and it was rushed out the door. Even Samsung said so. It was no secret the Galaxy Gear was a rushed product, a knee-jerk reaction. And all things considered, it was a nice reaction. But Samsung doesn’t simply get a pass because it jumped into a blossoming market head-first and conked its head on the bottom of the pool.
Granted, while Samsung managed to move more smartwatches than any other company in 2013 (no surprise there), with about 1.2 million Galaxy Gear models moved, it still asked too much for its watch – about $100 too much – right out of the gate.
The Gear quickly started seeing price cuts and promotions shortly after launch. And now, just five months later, the original Gear is being sold for a mere $100. That’s mainly because we’re on the brink of second-generation Gear watches, the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit. But it’s the sad truth and harsh reality for all of those Galaxy Gear early adopters who were burned by Samsung’s haphazard, first smartwatch.
Just last week, Samsung’s new watches were officially given a price for their US launch. Unsurprisingly, the Gear 2 will launch at the same exact price as the original: $300.
Yes, $300 for the Gear 2 is still steep. It’s still overpriced, and it will continue its reign as the most expensive smartwatch on the market, for better or worse. What’s more, is now its functionality and the future Gear ecosystem depends on the developers supporting Samsung’s Tizen OS, not Android. Great.
That in itself creates an entirely new conundrum.
This time around, though, Samsung’s approach is leaps and bounds better. No longer is $300 the base price. Instead, both the Gear Fit and Gear 2 Neo will land at the $200 mark, exactly halfway between the Pebble and Pebble Steel smartwatches. And that’s a good place to be.
However, I’m convinced Samsung could still do better.
What if Samsung matched Pebble pricing? $250 for the Gear 2 and $150 for the Gear 2 Neo or Gear Fit. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Even as someone who has never been moved by Samsung’s Gear lineup, those prices sound exponentially better than their actual pricing for one, incredibly important reason: pricing them accordingly with Pebble’s less functional smartwatches would make Pebble’s products appear overpriced to prospective buyers looking at both smartwatch lines.
These should be their permanent prices. Period. To lend even more credence to that, AT&T is running a promotion at launch. If you buy a new Gear watch with your Galaxy S 5 (purchased on-contract, of course), you get an impressive $50 off.
But there’s an even bigger reason Samsung may struggle to move Gear watches come April: Android Wear. While Samsung pushes its Tizen OS to the Gear watches, Google has released and SDK for its wearables platform, which will bring the power and prowess of Google Now directly to wearers’ wrists.
So while we give Samsung kudos for bringing options this time around, it has a mountain to climb and still needs to work to be a little more competitive – particularly with pricing – in the wearable space.
If the announced Moto 360 and LG G Watch hit the market at practically any price below $300, Samsung’s Gear watches could be dead in the water. And we’ll likely see their prices start to fall, as should be the case anyway.