With only few hours left to preorder the Apple Watch, many consumers are wondering how it stacks up against existing smartwatches. There seems little doubt that Apple will be inundated with orders when the Apple Watch is released, but is the hype that surrounds this smartwatch actually justified? And does it perform as well as the existing market-leading smartwatches?
The two most obvious competitors for the Apple Watch are Galaxy Gear and Pebble. The former of the two encompasses the Galaxy Gear range produced by Samsung, which has been the major rival to Apple in the mobile marketplace over the last few years. If Apple has somewhat left Samsung in its dust over the last 12 months, the fact remains that the Korean manufacturer is still an extremely prolific producer and seller of mobile devices, and the most likely challenger to the supremacy of the Apple Watch.
Pebble is very much a small-scale operation in comparison to the behemoths of Apple and Samsung; Pebble Technology Corporation having raised $10.3 million through a Kickstarter campaign in 2012. But the reason that the Pebble Time merits particular consideration is that it has generally been considered to be the best example of the niche released thus far. Certainly it will be difficult for a company of Pebble’s size to compete with a gargantuan organization such as Apple, but the is smartwatch manufacturer has nonetheless achieved a useful, and critically acclaimed, head start.
Apple Watch vs. Competition
When making a consumer decision, it is also worth bearing in mind that the Galaxy Gear will not in fact accompany the iPhone. This feels like a very conscious decision by Apple to marginalize its most obvious competitor. However, the good news for the relatively small fry Pebbl is that its smartwatch will partner with the iPhone; so there is no problem with purchasing a Pebble smartwatch and partnering it with, for example, the iPhone 6.
If there is one decisive factor for the efficacy of the smartwatch genre, it could possibly be battery life. Before the Apple Watch was even officially announced, there was already speculation that Apple would struggle to produce a smartwatch with satisfactory battery life. Despite the overwhelming commercial and critical success of the iPhone range, this has been an issue for Apple with its mobile devices, and it was mooted that the Apple Watch would face similar difficulties.
As the Apple Watch project has unfolded, it has become clear that this initial impression was not exactly unfounded. Indeed, in common with the other major Apple mobile devices, the Apple Watch last little longer than a day on a single charge. This ensures that it compares very unfavorably with the Pebble smartwatch series, which will last for nearly a week on the same single charge.
It must be said in mitigation that this is not an entirely fair comparison, as the Pebble Time watch is much simpler in application than the Apple Watch. Apple’s device attempts to be all things to all people and deliver a truly ambitious and holistic package, whereas the Pebble watch is intended to be a simple and uncluttered device. When choosing between the two, consumers must inevitably decide whether they want a simple but convenient smartwatch, or one featuring significant bells and whistles that will however require a significant amount of attention.
Samsung has inadvertently positioned the Galaxy Gear range somewhere between the two, suggesting that you can get as much as six days of battery life out of its devices with low usage. This is extremely optimistic, though, and would necessitate utilizing the Galaxy Gear as a watch alone, which would be rather pointless! A much more likely estimate is that the Galaxy Gear range will require recharging every 48 hours. The Apple Watch really ought to be aiming for this level of battery life, at the very least, when it is updated in the future.
Beginning with the least well-known of the three operating systems involved in smartwatches, the Pebble software which comes with the new Pebble Time watch has been revamped. But it is still certainly not as advanced as either the Apple or Samsung operating systems. However, it should be said in mitigation that it is the only smartwatch platform of the three assessed here that works with both iPhone and Android smartphones.
Choosing between the other two is to some extent a matter of personal preference, and Apple always attracts its first year of devotees as well as those that are ambivalent towards the corporation. Watch OS by Apple is certainly a slick piece of software, albeit the amount of attention it tends to demand from wearers can be a little irritating at times. It is also worth noting that an iPhone is required to use many functions of the Apple Watch, and this has already opened the device up to criticism.
Samsung’s smartwatch platform initially ran off a tweaked version of the Android operating system tailored for smartwatches, but has since been updated to be driven by the Linux-based Tizen OS. The general feeling about the Galaxy Gear is that it is not a top quality product yet. There is still work to do to deliver a system for the Galaxy Gear which is as well regarded as Samsung’s smartphone platforms, and it appears that Apple already has an advantage over Samsung in this department.
Apple has ensured that the Apple Watch has far more customization options than any other smartwatch on the market. And the Edition version of the Apple Watch is undoubtedly a significant innovation that Apple intends to catalyze the niche, establishing an entirely new marketplace.
Investment in this area does seem to have paid off, as the Apple Watch is noticeably more striking than its Samsung rival, and the rather functional Pebble Time. Apple has always relied on design quality to attract custom, and the Apple Watch certainly seems likely to continue this trend.
Apple has made health and fitness a central part of the Apple Watch’s purpose, and provided a reason for purchasing the Apple Watch in doing so. Additionally, the notification system included with the smartphone is to be commended. It will be possible for developers to tap into the software of the Apple Watch and enable notifications to be acted upon directly from the device itself. Apple Watch also has access to the outstanding Apple App Store.
In terms of features and functionality, the Apple Watch appears to be a little ahead of the Galaxy Gear range. Samsung had marketed this as a significant health-tracking companion, but the general consensus of opinion about the early Samsung smartwatches is that they are rather clunky to operate. The range of apps on Galaxy Gear is also probably inferior to the Apple Watch, even though we have yet to see the Apple Watch appear on the market.
The Pebble Time is an affordable and nifty little device that delivers exactly what is intended, but it is worth noting that it is the only device of the three which does not feature a touchscreen.
Comparing prices of the three devices is rather complex, considering that Apple intends to release multiple models of the Apple Watch. And the Edition Version of the smartwatch is considerably more expensive than any other device yet to hit the market. What can be said is that the Pebble smartwatch is certainly the cheapest of the three, retailing at a cent under $100 for the most affordable version. The bog standard Galaxy Gear is around $50 cheaper than the most affordable Apple Watch Sport, and this could also be factored into purchasing decisions.
Early reviews of the Apple Watch have observed, as some people perhaps predicted, that the device can be somewhat distracting. Apple has designed the Apple Watch as a companion to the iPhone, and this aspect of the device is certainly emphasized when utilizing it. It has also been suggested that the Apple Watch is in fact a very ambitious device, which attempts to perform a multitude of tasks. Some reviewers consider this to be a strength of the Apple Watch, and something to be admired, while others believe that the Apple Watch would benefit from a narrower focus.
The Apple Watch does seem to be a technically superior device to the Galaxy Gear range, and is of course far more advanced than the intentionally simplistic Pebble Time. But a massive black mark against the Apple Watch is its abysmal battery life, and it remains to be seen how practical the device is in real world situations.