Although the Galaxy Note 3‘s announcement earlier this week was more about Samsung, TouchWiz, and the software enhancements that deliver value to the S Pen than it was about Google’s mobile OS, Samsung is looking to reconcile its differences with the Android ecosystem as it looks to find more homes for the Galaxy Gear.
The Galaxy Gear smartwatch, dubbed a wearable device by Samsung, will initially be limited to the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition before it finds its way to older Galaxy devices, including the Galaxy Note 2, the Galaxy S4, and the Galaxy S3. However, Samsung wants to expand the Galaxy Gear to support additional Android devices not made by the company, though at this time details are scarce on what devices Samsung will be turning its Gear on.
Gear Welcoming Non-Samsung Phones With Open Wrist Straps
Product marketing manager Ryan Bidan confirmed that Gear will eventually find new homes, which may show that Samsung is still trying to work together with the larger Android ecosystem rather than going its own way as it becomes the biggest Android device manufacturer. However, despite Samsung’s openness to Android, there are still concerns about Gear’s compatibility for other Android devices.
Challenges of Expanding
Primarily since Gear is tied to many Samsung software and services, it may be hard to deliver the same level of completeness on a non-Samsung device with Gear. Gear taps into S Voice, a proprietary voice command function developed by Samsung, and integrates with S Health and other Samsung services. It’s unclear how Samsung would enable these services on other devices.
The Problem With Software-Hardware Integration
One possibility, which may not make as much business sense, is to open up S Voice and other S services that are required for full functionality on Galaxy Gear to rival platforms. Perhaps as a download on Google Play Store, owners of HTC One and the Moto X, for example, could download S Voice and other apps so they can experience using Galaxy Gear in its complete form like Galaxy Note 3 owners would.
Similarly, rival Motorola Mobility had debuted the MOTO ACTV sports watch in the past with initial support for Motorola smartphones. The device initially supported the Droid RAZR family, but Motorola eventually expanded support for the watch to other Android handsets and also added support for Twitter, Facebook, and weather notifications through a companion app that runs on the phone.
However, as the MOTO ACTV has the sensors built into the watch, it’s easier to enable support for the watch on non-Motorola handsets as it’s just a matter of software. In Samsung’s case, with apps like the S Health, sensors are tied to the phone. The Galaxy S4 has a temperature and humidity sensor and likely if S Health came to the Galaxy Gear, the GPS and pedometer data may be taken from the GPS and accelerometer from the phone, rather than from the watch. This means that for non-Samsung phone to achieve similar functionality, those devices would need similar hardware as Samsung’s devices as well.
Will Gear Favor Samsung Over Rivals?
Another option would be to offer a more crippled experience for rival smartphone models. This may not be too big of a deal considering the Galaxy Gear has a touchscreen and users can still interact with the watch by tapping on the small display. Owners of non-Samsung phones would have to experience Gear by tapping, rather than through spoken voice command.
And still a third option would be for Samsung to more openly embrace, rather than merely reconciling, with Google. This could result in Samsung using Google’s speech APIs from Google Now in lieu of S Voice for use on non-Samsung Android devices.
This would be similar to how Motorola implements the always-on voice search on the Moto X and recent Droids like the Droid Ultra on Verizon.
By relying on Google to deliver results, Gear could tap into Google’s search for more powerful voice features as well. Gear could become the digital assistant that’s strapped to your wrist in the same way that Siri has been tied to Apple’s iPhone.
Gear as the First Successful Smartwatch
It’s unclear how Samsung will proceed, and despite criticisms of the Galaxy Gear’s shortcomings, the smartwatch is still the best effort to date. Out of the gate, it already has robust third-party developer support and the Samsung brand should help the watch appeal to consumers. Previous smartwatch efforts came with little third-party apps, making them more limited in functionality.
Why Gear is Limited to Note at Launch
And according to Bidan, the reason that the Gear has been limited to the Note 3 and Note 10.1 2014 Edition at launch is because of the hardware and software that’s needed to connect with the Galaxy Gear. Galaxy Gear pairs with Android devices using the Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy protocol. That standard is also known as Bluetooth Smart on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.
“Right now the specific APIs and functionality are tied to the Galaxy Note 3. For obvious reasons we are looking for additional devices to support it,” Bidan told Read Write Web. “We will announce those when they come, but right now it is Galaxy Note 3 specific.”
The Bluetooth 4.0 LE chip is only available on a limited number of existing devices on the market today, and even then the hardware itself isn’t fully realized until those devices upgrade to at least Android 4.3, the first Android OS to support Bluetooth 4.0 LE. Potentially, this could mean that the Gear could arrive on devices like the Nexus 7 (2013) as that device has both.
In recent years, though Samsung uses the “open” Android OS, it is acting more like Apple by carefully marrying hardware and software together. As the most profitable Android device-maker, it’s been successful at that end as most consumers think Galaxy and TouchWiz when they think of Android rather than Google and other brands. However, as the smartphone and tablet market is becoming saturated, Samsung and other technology companies are looking at wearable computing as the next big thing. So while the Galaxy Gear may help Samsung sell more Galaxy Note 3 due to the integration, Samsung does want to expand Gear’s appeal to users of other smartphones to really grow in this emerging computing category. It will be interesting to see how Samsung resolves its strategy moving forward and how it intends on delivering its services and software to support non-Samsung products through Gear while still embracing Google’s open ecosystem.