Samsung’s announced new fitness and smart watch products at Mobile World Congress, all of which rely on Samsung’s Galaxy Smartphone s rather than the wider Android ecosystem. Is that a wise move?
If you read the market figures for smartphone profits, there are essentially two companies actually making money — Samsung and Apple. There’s no shortage of other players, but most financial analysis suggests that only Samsung and Apple are making appreciable hardware money right now.
Hardware for smartphones used to be just about smartphone devices, but this year’s clear emerging trend is for companion “smart” devices, mostly watches and bands so far. Or at least until Google Glass actually goes on sale, if it ever does.
Apple is notoriously secretive about its product plans, but it’s abundantly clear that while products may be some time off, it’s seriously been looking into the smart device space.
This is somewhere that Samsung is at right now with the announcement of the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit, all devices with an accessory bent to them, as they’re designed exclusively to work with Samsung’s own Android devices.
You’ve got to wonder if that’s wise. On the one hand, there are a lot more Android devices out there apart from Samsung’s own offerings, and making a device that works widely would seem to be a smart move for a company that presumably wants to sell more Gear 2/Neo/Fits than it did the original Galaxy Gear.
On the other hand, Samsung has a direct and rather obvious example of how it’s possible to make money in amounts nearly too large to count in the form of Apple’s walled-in iOS ecosystem. I don’t have to be Nostradamus, or even switch on that secret webcam I installed under Tim Cook’s desk* to work out that if Apple does develop an iWatch, it’ll only talk to iOS devices. On that rationale, why shouldn’t Samsung adopt the same strategy?
The reality is that I’m sure that this is exactly what Samsung would love to do. Unlike Apple, it’s not getting rich off app sales. Within the Android space, that’s Google’s money to take, and Samsung isn’t quite there yet, even with the threat of Tizen-based Smartwatches.
So hardware is where it needs to stake its claim. It’s not as though its competitors wouldn’t do the same. If you went to Sony or Huawei or HTC or ZTE or Motorola or LG or Blackberry or Nokia or even Fisher-Price with what was going to be the next big hot thing that blew the rest of the market apart, they wouldn’t hesitate to build it and ship it. That’s business.
Where it can be a little painful is if you’re an early adopter. I’m on the record as saying that I didn’t think much of the original Gear. It was ambitious, but the battery life was woeful, and the inbuilt camera made me feel uncomfortably like I was perving every time I went to check the time.
Hopefully the new Gears will be better on this score. Samsung’s already talking up the battery life as if to pre-empt my concerns, and the Neo is the camera-free option for those of us who don’t like pointing optics at other people inadvertently.
But if you bought a Gear last year, it’s already teetering towards obsolescence, because I can’t see Samsung pouring too much money into that platform any more.
*If anyone from Apple is reading this, I am naturally kidding. You’ll never find it anyway.