Seoul / San Francisco - Samsung Electronics set the price of its Galaxy Gear at $299 (R3 070) as the biggest maker of smartphones beat Apple in unveiling a wristwatch device that can make phone calls, surf the web and take photos.
Featuring a 4.1cm screen and 1.9 megapixel camera, the Gear would go on sale on September 25, Shin Jong-Kyun, the head of Samsung’s mobile business, said at the South Korean company’s headquarters in Suwon yesterday. The device syncs with tablets and smartphones using Google’s Android software to make phone calls.
Samsung showed the Galaxy Gear on Wednesday at IFA, Europe’s largest consumer electronics show, as it races Apple and Sony to carve a share of the market for wearable technology amid slowing growth in smartphones. The first companies to sell devices that multitask could lock customers into their platform and boost device sales, with researcher Strategy Analytics expecting 500 000 Galaxy Gears to be shipped this year.
“Device makers like smartwatches because they are personal devices that are highly visible to consumers,” Neil Mawston, an executive director at Strategy Analytics, said. “If you see your friend wearing a cool smartwatch on their wrist, you will probably want one.”
The Gear weighs 74 grams, is available in six colours – including orange, gold and lime green – and has an ultra-thin screen using organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, technology. Sales will begin in 140 countries this year, with the US and Japanese debut in October.
The device has a fitness tracker and works with about 70 applications, according to Samsung. It has a 4 gigabyte internal memory and 512 megabytes of RAM. It links wirelessly to a user’s smartphone. Samsung unveiled the Gear at a tented event in Berlin, away from IFA’s giant halls, to thousands of attendees.
A built-in speaker enables hands-free calls from the Gear while voice recognition features allow users to draft messages, set alarms and check the weather.
Samsung shares rose 1.9 percent at the close of trade in Seoul. The stock has dropped 10 percent this year compared with a 2.3 percent decline for the benchmark Kospi index.
Apple had a team of designers working on a watch-like device, two people familiar with the matter said in February. The company sought trademark protection for the “iWatch” name in Japan, according to a June 3 filing.
Sony already has its Smartwatch that syncs with Android handsets. The Smartwatch 2 would reach stores this month, and could be used as a second screen for the Xperia Z1 smartphone, Sony said at IFA on Wednesday.
“We expect Samsung Galaxy Gear to sell… well, but it is most likely to be Apple that catalyses the smartwatch industry,” Mawston said. “Apple should be able to blend the iWatch into its iOS ecosystem in a much tighter way than the fragmented Android community.”
Qualcomm, the biggest maker of chips for cellphones, would begin selling a connected wristwatch called Toq, the company said yesterday.
Sales of wearable gadgets, including the Galaxy Gear and Google’s SmartGlass eyewear, will grow to 70 million units in 2017 from 15 million this year, according to Jupiter Research. The watch industry will generate more than $60 billion in sales this year.
Samsung also unveiled its Galaxy Note 3, a combination smartphone and tablet computer with a 5.7-inch screen, improved software and more accessories than its predecessor introduced at IFA a year ago.
Running on third-generation networks, as well as the faster long-term evolution, the new Note had a 13-megapixel camera and allowed users to simultaneously juggle two apps on the same screen with a digital pen, Samsung said.
Lee Young-Hee, the executive vice-president for the mobile unit, said: “Together with the main device it will set a different level of ‘smart’ experiences.”
The Note 3 would be released on September 25, the same day the Galaxy Gear went on sale.
Apple sent out invitations yesterday to a September 10 event. – Bloomberg