Today’s numbers that show how well Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch have been doing have been all over the map. An early report in BusinessKorea declared the Gear a flop that sold only 50,000 units since its introduction in September, with daily sales of “800 – 900 units” in Korea. Samsung quickly responded with an announcement that it had sold 800,000 units, and that sales had exceeded their expectations. Later, the verb applied to those 800,000 nouns was tempered to shipped.
The Galaxy Gear is meant to be a peripheral device for a smartphone, connecting to it via Bluetooth LE. As with other smartwatches such as the Pebble, when wearing it, you can see notifications from your phone for email, text messages, incoming calls and so on without having to dig into your pocket or riffle through your bag for the device. Its use of Bluetooth LE means that it can only communicate with devices running Android 4.3, which currently are the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition. Support for the current flagship phone, the Galaxy S4, will come when Android 4.3 comes to that phone.
Powered by a single-core Exynos system-on-a-chip running at 800MHz with 512MB of RAM, the Gear has about as much under the hood as a 2009/2010-era smartphone. Its display is a 227 pixel-per-inch 320 * 320 Super AMOLED touchscreen. Incorporated into the wristband are a 1.9 megapixel camera with back-illuminated sensor, a speaker, and two noise-cancelling microphones. It also has an accelerometer and a gyroscope. It’s an enticing platform for a mobile developer.
The Gear has received mostly poor reviews. The integration of components such as the camera, speaker, and microphones into the strap makes it rather stiff and uncomfortable to wear for some people. The notification system — one of the primary reasons the watch is worn — has been called inconsistent, although it’s said that software upgrades have fixed some of these problems. Battery life is short. Geek.com published a leaked report citing a 30% return rate for Galaxy Gears at Best Buy.
The Gear is another data point for my theory that Samsung are great at making things for which there’s an existing template or a long history that they can use as a guide — think TVs, monitors, washing machines, and many other products that bear a Samsung label. However, when they’re venturing into terra incognita — just think of every smartphone that came before the Galaxy S3 — they need help. As The Verge put it in their review of the Galaxy Gear:
As with industrial design, software engineering isn’t among Samsung’s strengths, and the results on the Gear are a painful mix of unreliability and inadequacy.
“What we’re dealing with is small green tomatoes,” he said of the Gear’s first-generation growing pains. “And what we want to do is take care of them and work with them so they become big, red ripe tomatoes. And what you want to be sure of is that you don’t pluck the green tomato too early and you want to make sure that you don’t criticize a small green tomato for not being a big, red ripe tomato.”
In other words: Yes, it’s not ready for the market, but please blow $300 on it anyway! We’ll get it right eventually.