GALAXY Gear: is the future here?

We all knew Samsung was working on a wearable product, before it was revealed in August that it would be a smartwatch. But what can you do a with a wearable product like a smartwatch: should it replace your smartphone but in a smaller package that you can carry on your wrist? Samsung had tried to replace a regular phone with a watch phone in 1999, 2003 and not so long ago in 2009.

First watch phone in 1999 the SPH-WP10
Watch Phone in 2003
S9110 released in 2009

In 1999 they released the SPH-WP10 which was the world’s first watch phone. In 2003 they tried it again with launching the Watch Phone. It was quite a remarkable product for that time because it had a small OLED display and you could make phone calls through voice dialing but Samsung cancelled this product so it never reached the stores.

Ten years after releasing their first watch phone, Samsung came back with their S9110 watch phone, which was also an interesting product because it looks more like a modern product. It was packed with a 1.76 inch capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 176 x 220. But even a touchscreen could not make this product line successful.

Looking back at these 3 products you’ll immediately notice that they had one thing in common, that tried to replace a phone in a smaller form factor. Samsung has learned from their experiences in the past, and at their Unpack Event Episode 2 in Berlin they revealed the GALAXY Gear, which will take watches in a new and smarter direction.

Picture courtesy of Samsung’s Unpacked Event Episode 2 Webcast

First it was JK Shin (Head of Samsung Mobile Communications) who gave us a glimpse of GALAXY Gear when he showed everyone how he received a message saying “Don’t forget to mention Android,” but that was only the beginning of the whole unveiling.

Picture courtesy of Samsung’s Unpacked Event Episode 2 Webcast

Later during the event Jason Bradbury (host of the Event) said that he had a treat for us and that it was a pleasure for him to welcome Pranav Mistry on stage to tell us more about the GALAXY Gear and its Smart Freedom concept.

Pranav Mistry is the Head of the Think Tank Team and Director of Research of Samsung Research America. As he mentioned during the Unpack Event his role at Samsung is to imagine and create what’s next.

Picture courtesy of Samsung’s Unpacked Event Episode 2 Webcast

Pranav is one of the greatest innovators and computer scientist of this time. He was born and raised in Palanpur, a small town of northern Gujarat, India. He received his Bachelor Of Computer Engineering from Gujarat University, Master Of Design from IIT Bombay, and Master in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT.

Before joining Samsung in 2012 he worked for several companies like Microsoft, where he worked as a UX Researcher at their Development Center in India. Later he also did some projects where he worked, for example, with Google, NASA and UNESCO.
Pranav has received several awards and achievements – most recently he received the Young Global Leader 2013 Award by the World Economic Forum and in 2009 he won the Invention Of The Year Award with his SixthSense technology, which is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets people use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.

Pranav Mistry is the mastermind behind the GALAXY Gear and you’ll find a few innovations of his SixthSense Technology in the GALAXY Gear. Now you may think that showing notifications, making phone calls or taking photos are nothing special. Well, that’s true, nowadays those are not special, but it’s the way you can use these features and what technology like a camera or a speaker can do for you, that are important here.

Smart Relay
Picture courtesy of Samsung’s Unpacked Event Episode 2 Webcast

An interesting feature is Smart Relay. When you receive an email, the GALAXY Gear can show you a preview, which is just fine but its 1.63 inch Super AMOLED screen is just too small to read the full email and even if it wasn’t, it’s still not convenient to read a full email on something that you are wearing on your wrist. Normally, if you would like to read the full email on your phone you’ll need to do several steps before you can read it, like grabbing and unlocking your phone, search for the email app, open the email app, search for the email, then open the email. That’s a lot of steps as you can see, for doing something as simple as reading an email. Smart Relay will solve this issue: when you want to read the full email, just grab your phone from your pocket and it will instantaneously open the same email on your phone.

GALAXY Note II Product_Spec(국문)
Picture courtesy of Samsung Tomorrow

Samsung has equipped the GALAXY Gear with several chips and sensors. Pranav Mistry said during the presentation that the strap is packed with technologies from the next decade, which can be arguable since a microphone and a camera which are placed on the strap have existed for quite some time, but again, he was pointing at the way you can use these things rather than their mere existence on the device.

To make a phone call you can dial a number or you can browse through your contacts since the GALAXY Gear is always connected with your phone. The interesting part is that you can answer an incoming call by just bringing your hand up to your ear. It may look strange for the first time, but it’s actually quite convenient and completely natural since we have been making phone calls like this for more than a decade. Even though time will tell whether or not people are going to use this feature, I’m sure that Samsung is working on improving the call functionality and even extend the feature set with, for example, a natural gesture to reject phone calls.

Picture courtesy of Samsung’s Unpacked Event Episode 2 Webcast

On the GALAXY Gear you’ll also find a 1.9 megapixel camera with a BSI (Backside Illuminated) Sensor and Autofocus. The camera is also placed in the strap just like the microphone and speaker but the camera is facing the rear side. Samsung is calling the feature to take photos and videos (max. 10 seconds), the Memographer.

As Pranav Mistry was saying during the presentation, it’s very easy use this feature. Just swipe down from the top bezel and tap to take a photo or video, it’s that simple!
Now, you may think why would you want to take photos with a Smartwatch. The reason is because it’s easy, faster and convenient to use. If you compare it with a simple point-and-shoot camera like Pranav did during the presentation, it’s clear that with the GALAXY Gear its easier and faster to take that a photo of that important moment that otherwise would slip away.

Apps Memographer
Pictures courtesy of Samsung’s Unpacked Event Episode 2 Webcast

The most interesting part comes now: the camera is not for just taking snapshots but there is more and it’s in my opinion the best feature of the GALAXY Gear which is the beginning a new world of Augmented Reality. It will be open a new world of learning and discovering new things around us. Wouldn’t it be great if you are on vacation in Japan, you go to a restaurant that only has a menu in Japanese but you can still easily order a dish? With the GALAXY Gear this can become reality.

Yes, you can do with your smartphone as well, but the way of interacting with the GALAXY Gear or any Smartphone are two different worlds and since the GALAXY Gear is always on your wrist its easier and convenient to use. For me this is the killer feature of the GALAXY Gear since it will blow new life into the world of Augmented Reality, and I was a bit surprised that Samsung didn’t show us more of its theoretical possibilities at the event.
Augmented Reality has been around us for quite a long time and has taken a major step with the newer generations of smartphones, but it has never become popular which is a shame since you can do some interesting things with it.

Samsung said during the presentation that they want the things you can do with the GALAXY Gear to be endless, and this may sound too good to be true, but this can be possible with great innovative ideas. Pranav Mistry have worked out different possibilities with his SixthSense Technology like, for example, as a translation tool or to give you relevant information at an object you are looking at.

Schermafbeelding 2013-09-12 om 22.52.14
SixthSense showing weather information

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SixthSense is showing that a flight has been delayed
Pictures courtesy of Pranav Mistry’s SixthSense demo at Ted

I’m sure we will see greater innovations in future products. I personally see a lot of possibilities as a medical tool, such as to warn you when you have a weak capacitance and even give you advice on what you can do about it, or as a communication and understanding tool, for communication between people who are unfortunately unable to speak or people who are deaf, with people who don’t understand gesture language. There are solutions to solve this issues but they require multiple steps which you mostly don’t want in these situations, and with the GALAXY Gear, the whole process can be made simpler.

So, is the future really here with the GALAXY Gear? My answer is a resounding yes, and it’s a future that will only get brighter as time goes on.

How are you going to use your GALAXY Gear? What kind of functions would you like it to perform? Let us know in the comments section!

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