Samsung seeks 'iPod moment' for its smartwatch

The device, expected to launch Wednesday, will reportedly be a companion to a smartphone, rather than a standalone gadget.

By MSN Money Partner Sep 3, 2013 2:49PM

CNBCBy Matt Clinch


Samsung is set to launch its much anticipated smartwatch on Wednesday, marking a major milestone in the emerging product category amid concerns that the smartphone market has reached its peak.


The watch, thought to be called "Galaxy Gear," is expected to be revealed at IFA -- a global innovations show in Berlin -- on Wednesday evening. A report in the Korean Times, which cited comments from a senior Samsung executive, boosted hopes of the launch, but event organizers would not confirm the release, stating only that the presentation should "not be missed."


It will be the first smartwatch release from one of the world's top two smartphone manufacturers, in a new but blossoming product category that is currently dominated by unknown startup firms. A smartwatch is a computerized wristwatch with functionality beyond simple timekeeping, and Samsung's device is expected to be an accompaniment to a smartphone, rather than a standalone device with its own sim card.

Perhaps inevitably, there have been a number of apparent leaks about Samsung's Galaxy Gear. EV Leaks, which specializes in tech information, tweeted a picture of what it said was the device's application menu. The screenshot indicated that the watch would have NFC (Near Field Communications) -- rival technology to Bluetooth which enables the device to easily "pair" with a smartphone.

Tech website Venturebeat appeared to go one better, publishing a picture of a chunky, 3-inch, wrist-mounted accessory that the website said was a prototype given to app developers ahead of Wednesday's' release.


"Somehow I don't think LVMH (parent company of Louis Vuitton and Dior) is worried," Benedict Evans of consultancy Enders Analysis said after the leak.


Samsung Electronics Co. logo (© JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/GettyImages)Design patents filed in Korea have also fueled rumors that the watch will feature a flexible glass screen, using up all available space on a user's wrist. However these claims were downplayed by the Samsung executive quoted in the Korean press.


Joshua Flood, a senior analyst at tech research firm ABI Research, told CNBC that if the device did feature a flex-screen, it would be the first smartwatch to include such technology. Samsung may then look to roll this out across its whole Galaxy range of smartphones.


Annette Zimmermann, a principal analyst at research firm Gartner, described this screen as a "differentiator" for the South Korean tech giant, but still predicted that volumes for smartwatches would remain comparably low.

"In Gartner's device forecast we have an assumption built into our model that says that less than 3% of consumers replacing their smartphone will replace it with a smartwatch in 2017," she told CNBC.


Many analysts share Zimmerman's views that the uptake of smartwatches will be muted.


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