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Has Samsung Botched Its Smartwatch Strategy?

It seems only a few weeks ago that Samsung (SSNLF) unveiled its Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

Oh, wait… that’s because it was!

It’s the company’s first foray into the smartwatch market, with the watch hitting the shelves in a couple of weeks.

So I thought I’d got lost in some kind of time warp when I read that before the Galaxy Gear even goes on sale, Samsung is already preparing to unveil its second-generation smartwatch in early 2014 – the inventively named… wait for it… Galaxy Gear 2.

According to South Korea’s Digital Times, Samsung’s next version will include GPS, improved battery life and more compatibility with other Android devices (the first watch will only be able to sync up with the Galaxy Note 3 smartphone).

Call me crazy… but wouldn’t it be wiser to put those features in the first smartwatch to boost the chances of a blowout launch? The poor compatibility issue, for example, was one of the biggest criticisms when Samsung unveiled the watch on September 4.

With a possible Galaxy Gear 2 launch at either the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, or Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, wouldn’t it make more sense to see how the first version performs before making plans to launch another one so soon afterward? Especially in a new and unproven market.

One insider thinks so…

Inside the Hearts and Minds of Humans

How does a company gauge whether a market or new product will be successful?

Simply put… through comprehensive research.

At Intel (INTC), that task falls to anthropologist, Genevieve Bell, director of the company’s interaction and experience research group. She and her team of sociologists, designers, engineers and scientists have a simple mission: Find out what people think of technology, how they use it and how new technology would impact and improve their lives.

In a recent interview with MIT Technology Review, she explains that while the world is currently abuzz about the idea of wearable technology, the concept of wearing accessories on the body actually dates back thousands of years.

And she says the motivation for it has always boiled down to two basic functions: “One of them is literal. They’re doing some kind of work to extend our physicality, or reach. The other is always symbolic, what it says to others.”

Form vs. Function

She says the challenge facing the likes of Samsung, Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), Sony (SNE), plus her own company, is how to “weave those two things together – the functional and the symbolic.”

At the moment, she says tech companies are still “very much in the ‘task’ piece of wearable computing, not the symbolic ‘how do we make sense of it’ piece.”

That certainly seems the case for smartwatches.

While the idea of wearing a “computer watch” is cool, does it really do more than your smartphone? In Samsung’s case, the fact that you can only sync the Galaxy Gear watch with the Galaxy Note 3 phone makes the sale even more challenging.

That speaks to Bell’s point about wearable technology needing to hit a point where it transcends style and status symbolism and becomes something truly functional that society embraces.

She cites the smartphone market: “Smartphones only got interesting when people stopped thinking of them as phones. In my mind, the central promise of a smartphone is that you’ll never be bored again. You’ll never be without something to do. Once people stopped being held hostage to the idea that smartphones were like old-fashioned phones, they could imagine that they needed to do all kinds of other things like gaming and photography.”

The wearable technology market is projected to grow 10-fold over the next five years – despite Bell stating that it’s “so nascent, we haven’t worked out what the promises are yet.”

Samsung’s bold smartwatch strategy is proof that tech companies will try to figure out wearable tech’s potential on the fly.

Ahead of the tape,

Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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