The Galaxy Gear

No doubt you've probably read quite a bit about the Galaxy Gear by now, since Samsung's debut of their first smartwatch seemed to be the biggest news of the IFA show. 

While there's been no shortage of opinions - which have, in review, been decidedly mixed with a slight overall positive tone in aggregate - I'll quickly summarize my thoughts on the smartwatch and its launch.

The Galaxy Gear

The Galaxy Gear

Biggest Surprise 

Like many, I was surprised by the wristband based camera. The embedded 1.9 MP camera is definitely a differentiating feature that is also fairly practical in that it puts the camera in a decent location for image capture. It should also be noted that such a camera is limiting in terms of flexibility since the band is unswappable, but that's the tradeoff Samsung made in order to get the watch body to a palatable size. 

Software 

While only having a chance to watch a few hands-on reviews of the watch, my initial impression  is that Samsung did a fairly nice job with the Gear software. They created a simple and easy-to-navigate UI with a fairly surprising number of on-board apps out of the gate. From productivity apps like Evernote to fitness apps like Runkeeper, they've offered a good starter menu to satiate different app-etites.

Of course, while the number of apps available from day one is in part due to the fact the watch runs Android,  I'm not surprised about reports that that watch seems to be a bit sluggish for the same reason. As someone who's used Android for four generations of phones, I can tell you sluggish almost seems like a feature set, especially on single core processors.

Price

The $299 price is probably what I would have guessed had I seen the specs before launch, and is not crazy high given the unique differentiating features of the watch.  That said, I think it's on the high end of the smartwatch spectrum for the mass market in these early days (but likely lower than what I expect an iWatch to come in at).

Compatibility 

A lack of compatibility with non-Samsung phones (and most older Samsung phones and tablets) is, in my opinion, the biggest drawback of the Gear. It will also factor significantly into my smartwatch forecasts since I expect that Samsung will likely account for a significant percentage of the smartwatch market in the fourth quarter of this year and in 2014, and by limiting compatibility to their own devices (at least initially) limits the potential addressable market. 

That said,  I understand why Samsung did what they did. Android is not an easy platform to build an ecosystem of tethered wearables around, and there is also a significant amount of customization that they've done including around S-voice and other Samsung specific services. To broaden that to non-Samsung phones is going to take some time.  

Overall

As I wrote at GigaOM, I give Samsung a decent grade for the Gear rollout. The watch is smaller and better looking than I expected, and they get some extra credit for surprising with the embedded wristband camera.

That said, my feeling is the watch isn't necessarily a category creator on par with, say, the iPad or Kindle e-reader. This is largely due to the lack of compatibility with non-Samsung (and non-Android) devices, but also because I think it's not necessarily a big enough leap forward from existing smartwatches to really capture the imagination of the broader public like those other devices did almost instantly.