The smartwatch niche has not been a particularly successful one for Samsung thus far, as its Galaxy Gear device has yet to catch fire. When the Galaxy Gear was initially released it provoked lukewarm reviews, and its commercial reception has not really been significantly better. Samsung has shifted around 2 million units of the Galaxy Gear, which is a pretty mediocre market impact to say the least. By comparison, Apple is expected to sell around 20 million copies of the Apple Watch during the 2015 calendar year alone, and in fact achieved well over 3 million pre-orders of the device within weeks of it being unveiled.
Samsung playing catch-up
So Samsung is certainly playing catch-up in this field. Thus, it is interesting to note that recent news stories have suggested that Samsung will unveil the next generation of its smartwatch in September of this year. According to reports from the Samsung following media, the Korean manufacturer will remove the veil from its latest smartwatch at a major trade show.
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The Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (IFA) event in September is a major date in the mobile industry, and it was the occasion at which Samsung was expected to unveil the Galaxy Note 5 phablet. That remains the case, but there are now reports emanating from sources close to Samsung that suggest it will partner the Galaxy Note 5 with the Galaxy Gear A at this event. This will certainly give fans of the Tizen-driven Galaxy Gear series something significant to look forward to.
It had previously been expected that Samsung would wait a significant amount of time after releasing the Galaxy Note 5 before introducing its next smartwatch to the market. The consensus of opinion was that as this is an important device for the entire smartwatch genre as a whole, it would be necessary for Samsung to delay the Galaxy Gear for as long as possible to ensure that it gets the device right.
Galaxy Gear A / Apple Watch battle
However, it seems that Samsung is carefully considering the schedule of its great rival Apple. With the second Apple Watch expected in 2016, Samsung may have decided to bring forward the release of the Galaxy Gear A to ensure that it doesn’t significantly clash with the launch of Apple’s smartwatch sequel.
Considering the chasm between the two smartwatches in terms of success, this would seem to be a sensible policy from the Korean manufacturer. Although Samsung has made ambitious noises in the past about taking Apple on directly, now does not seem to be the right time, and certainly not in the smartwatch niche.
The overwhelming likelihood is that by the end of 2015, Apple Watch will have massively outsold the Galaxy Gear range regardless of whether Samsung releases the Galaxy Gear A this year or not. Putting this device up against a brand-new Apple Watch would be something approaching commercial suicide for the brand, and Samsung evidently wants to attract consumers while there is a gap in Apple’s schedule.
It could also be the case that Samsung is hoping that the Galaxy Gear A will bask in the reflected glory of the release of the Galaxy Note 5. There are incredibly high expectations for this successor to the Galaxy Note 4 as the aforementioned device was very favorably received when it was released last year. Although Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus phablet also received an excellent critical and commercial reception, there is a strong argument that the Galaxy Note 5 is the world’s best phablet at the time of writing.
So much as it has been long rumored that Apple will bring out a specialist smartphone as a companion device to the Apple Watch, it could be that Samsung views the Galaxy Note 5 as the ideal opportunity to forge a collaborative relationship with its smartwatch. Certainly something is needed to kickstart sales of the device, and Samsung will be carefully considering its strategy for the Galaxy Gear A launch as much as developing the device itself.
In terms of what we can expect from the Galaxy Gear A, it seems facile to assert that there will be a very strong mobile payment focus. The mobile payment marketplace will be an important frontier in the overall battle between Samsung and Apple in the next few years, with Samsung Pay and Apple Pay jockeying for positions of supremacy.
Smartwatches are naturally well suited to such functionality as mobile payment, as they can be conveniently transported around on one’s person due to their wearable nature. Similarly, It is thought that smartwatches will eventually offer functionality related to airports, with numerous airlines currently testing mobile boarding passes that can be utilized via smile watches. Mobile boarding passes have already gone live with several airports and airlines, but they are really expected to come into their own once smartwatches become a mainstream form of technology.
So Samsung may also give some consideration to this aspect of the smartwatch. But they will probably also pay heed to the extent that Apple has marketed its smartwatch as a health and fitness device, and possibly attempt to do something similar. The early smartwatch releases, not only from Samsung but other manufacturers as well, were marred by the fact that the consumer electronics companies that produced them failed to satisfactorily define to consumers what their strengths were. Above all else, Samsung must do this with the Galaxy Gear A, and ensure that its device significantly differs from the Apple Watch.
One interesting aspect of the release that will be worth paying attention to is whether or not Samsung will attempt to rebrand the Galaxy Gear A by releasing a premium version akin to the Apple Watch Edition. The watch as a status symbol is a popular aspect of culture, and Apple has clearly attempted to establish this with its $10,000 version of the Apple Watch. While Samsung may be in no position to follow suit, it is something that it has probably considered seriously.
We will soon find out, with the Galaxy Gear A unveiling only four months away.