Galaxy Gear: Not the watch we've been waiting for

Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy Gear, its first "smartwatch" product. And based on the info coming out of IFA this week, including our colleague Alex Dobie's hands-on look over at Android Central, I'm still trying to figure out why I would want it.

I'm sure a few of you reading this are going to throw your hands up and say, "Of course you don't get it, Peter, you're an Apple snob."

Look, I fully admit to being an Apple partisan, and I make no apology for it: My entire professional life for the past 27 years has, in some way, been related to using Apple technology. I have a lot invested in making sure Apple succeeds. Plus I just really like their stuff.

But despite that, or perhaps because of it, I've moved beyond the point in my life where I assume that everyone who doesn't use an Apple product is an idiot (unfortunately, idiocy seems to be pretty platform-agnostic). I get why people like Samsung products, and why Android has attracted so many. Samsung builds some nice gear. If I were shopping for an Android phone, I'd definitely be looking at Samsung's products. So this isn't a partisan slam against Samsung or Android.

The Galaxy Gear has a 1.63-inch touchscreen face that uses AMOLED technology with a built-in digitizer. It runs Android, and it can shoot pictures and video and has a built in pedometer, but really, it's designed to be a satellite to a Samsung smartphone sitting in your pocket.

Samsung's co-CEO J.K. Shin called the Galaxy Gear the "perfect companion" to other products like the new Galaxy Note III. And that's the crux of the problem for me. I don't need a "perfect companion" for my smartphone. I want something else entirely.

To that end, it can pull up information from your phone and works in concert with third-party apps you have on your phone. You can make calls on it, Dick Tracy style, thanks to a built in speaker and microphone. Samsung's already lined up an impressive roster of dozens of developers to support the new device. Evernote, Pocket, TripIt and others have signed up.

I understand how reaching for your wrist might save you a few seconds compared to reaching into your pocket for your phone. But looking at the Galaxy Gear, I feel a bit like George Carlin when he did his "Stuff" routine. Here's a reminder, if you've never seen it:

My point is this: the Pebble, the Galaxy Gear, and Qualcomm's forthcoming Toq smartwatch, aren't doing much of anything independently that we're not doing with our phones already. To me, that misses the point of a smartwatch's potential. I don't need a device that just provides a subset of functions that I can use on another device I'm already carrying. I want something that's going to make my life better.

How a smartwatch can make my life quantitatively better is a question I don't have an answer to, and that's why the Galaxy Gear and its ilk leave me a bit cold. As I've said on our iMore Show podcast, the idea of using the smartwatch for biometrics is interesting - as a form of authentication or an additional layer of security. Using a smartwatch as a medical diagnosis tool is another important area - I admit it's a niche, but as someone with chronic health issues, I'd appreciate being able to monitor things like blood pressure, blood glucose and other vitals without having to prick my finger or wear a cuff.

The point is this: I'm still waiting for a company to convince me that a smartwatch is a thing I need, not just another gadget that would be nice to have. To that end, Rene Ritchie and I are banking on Apple to be the first company to do exactly that. Because so far, smartwatches seem like a solution in search of a problem.

More on the Galaxy Gear:

  • Samsung Galaxy Gear shows what Apple won't do with an iWatch
  • Samsung Galaxy Gear coverage at Android Central
Peter Cohen