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Will Samsung Kill the Smart Watch Market?

So it’s fair to say that there has been an endless amout of talk about the coming smartwatch revolution. It has to be soon, real soon now. After all, such tech giants as Samsung and even Sony and Google are jumping on the bandwagon. This has to be big stuff, for why would big companies, and even smaller ones, be investing in wearable gear of this sort?

Well, consider that it was over a decade ago that Microsoft announced the impending tablet revolution. Each year they said it was nearly upon us, but the touch-based note-books that were regarded as tablets were mostly expensive tools for businesses. People avoided them like the plague!

When tablets finally became successful, it was because of a product with the Apple logo on it, one entirely different from the products originally envisioned by Microsoft. Instead of a business gadget, the iPad started out as a consumer device, but was eventually adopted by pretty much all of the Fortune 500 companies. What’s more, Airline pilots use them for flight manuals and other documentation, and some luxury car makers give you one with the owner’s manuals preloaded.

Microsoft is nowhere to be found in the tablet market; the tiny share of the Surface is little more than a rounding error.

This week, Samsung decided it was time to enter the smartwatch arena, with the clumsily named Galaxy Gear SmartWatch. At $299, it’s not a casual investment, and, based on early reports of performance, it wouldn’t be a decent investment at any price.

As I reported the other day, the Verge, an online tech site, said the interface lagged on the units they played with at Samsung’s presentation, and that the demo units were running out of juice by the end of the media event. Forget about all-day battery life, unless you sit back and do nothing. And if you work late, are you expected to bring along a charger to be able to at least know what time it is?

Those who have examined the specs can understand why, since it is very underpowered for an Android device, but Samsung was constrained by what they could put in the oversized case. Worse, only two new Samsung gadgets, a phablet and a tablet, can pair with the thing. If you have anything else, either hope for eventual compatibility or forget about it. Talk about crippling!

But it gets worse. Aside from indications of performance problems and inferior battery life, along with minimal support for other devices, the Samsung can’t live alone. It may include phone capability, but it still has to connect to another device. So even if you have the right products, neither of which are convenient to carry in one’s pocket unless you moonlight as a clown and take your costume with you, what if you forget to take them? You end up with a somewhat costly watch and not much else.

Might as well buy a regular watch and be done with it. At least you’ll have control over what mobile gadget you want to take with you, assuming you wouldn’t prefer to take a day off from the online world.

Now some might want to compare Samsung’s product with the early days of digital music players. There was a sizable potential audience, but the products were crappy, at least until the iPod came along and revolutionized Apple.

While people still buy watches, there’s little to indicate they would buy a smartwatch at any price. Failed products will only discourage them further, and make it harder for the company that delivers  a workable solution to grow demand.

Sure, Apple might do well, simply because of the company’s cachet. The supposed iWatch would be something real special, and I have little doubt that Apple would provide something with better looks,  a smaller case, much longer battery life, and perhaps even the ability to work all by itself, without need to link with anything else. In order words, it would be essentially a portable iPhone with the face of a watch. But that assumes Apple is taking this project to a higher level, and I see little reason why they wouldn’t.

Even then, I still wonder how many people would embrace them. Sure, an Apple iWatch would be a far more approachable gadget than Google Glass. But people buy watches for many reasons. Sometimes it’s just to tell time, sometimes to use the stopwatch capability of some models, and otherwise as a fashion accessory. You don’t worry about whether a Rolex keeps perfect time. It’s a Rolex, and accuracy is a secondary consideration.

But unless or until Apple enters the market, you can bet there will be more crummy gear in the smartwatch segment. The only danger is that, by the time the alleged iWatch shows up, potential customers will already be turned off by the miserable failures of Samsung and other companies.