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Are You Ready for Smartwatches?

While Dick Tracy's notion of a watch that enables two-way communications dates back to the 1960s, it's no longer science fiction. How quickly watches that extend the smartphone to your wrist catch on is anyone's guess but it seems like we're about to find out.

Samsung is kicking off an ambitious marketing plan for its new Galaxy Gear smartwatch (check out this commercial).  Reviews have largely panned the $299 device for a variety of reasons including the fact it currently has limited functionality. As David Pogue noted in his review in The New York Times last week, the watch will alert you that you have a message, but you have to look at your Galaxy Note smartphone to see that message. It doesn't even work with more widely used Galaxy phones such as the more popular Galaxy S4, though that will apparently be rectified later next month.

The watch does let users receive and make phone calls presuming your phone is nearby (using Bluetooth), controls music playback and take a small number of photos and videos. Oh and it still displays the time. The Galaxy Gear must be charged every night, it's not waterproof and it's big (but that's to be expected).

Samsung is surely not the first to introduce a smartwatch --  Kickstarter-based Pebble Technology, Sony and Motorola now offer smartwatches. But Samsung's huge install base of Galaxy phones and its decision to roll out an aggressive marketing campaign for Galaxy Gear will be a real test of demand for smartwatches. Market researcher Canalys, which forecasts 500,000 smartwatches will ship this year, recently forecast that number will grow nine-fold next year to 5 million.

Besides Samsung, a widely rumored iWatch from Apple next year could be a hit, according to a survey of 799 U.S. consumers by Piper Jaffray. The survey forecasts Apple could sell 5 to 10 million iPhones in the first year they're available. Still, only 12 percent of iPhone users said they'd be interested in purchasing an iWatch, according to the survey. In other words, an overwhelming 88 percent are not interested.

For its part, Microsoft is said to have moved its latest effort to release a smartwatch to the group that designs and markets the company's Surface devices. While The Verge recently reported Microsoft is working on smartwatch prototypes with modified versions of Windows 8, it remains to be seen whether the company's recent move to acquire Nokia's mobile handset business and the company's search for a new CEO will delay Microsoft's entry of a smartwatch.

Many scoff at the idea of having a smartwatch. But those same people never imagined they'd one day have a smartphone too. Are you warming up to the idea of glancing at your wrist to check your e-mail?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/07/2013 at 2:14 PM


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