Gear Fit: Samsung strikes again with its 'build one of any device' plan

Stylish, real-time OS-based Fit smart wristband was unveiled at MWC along with two Tizen-based Gear smartwatches and the Galaxy S5 smartphone

Samsung was already on the path to global domination of the smartphone and tablet market when it unveiled another truckload of devices last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Samsung unveiled a sleek new smart wristband device, the Samsung Gear Fit, at Mobile World Congress. (Image: Samsung)

The mammoth Seoul-based PC and device maker got the most attention at the show for a sleek new smart wristband device called the Samsung Gear Fit, which was introduced with two near Gear smartwatches and the new Galaxy S5 smartphone with a new fingerprint reader and heart rate sensor.

The Fit wristband is the first curved wearable smartband with a Super AMOLED 432 x 128 pixel color screen that measures 1.84-in. diagonally. Fit requires access to Bluetooth 4.0 via up to 20 different Samsung smartphones and tablets to receive notification of calls, emails and texts. The device also has a heart rate sensor, accelerometer and gyroscope that can monitor sleep and exercise in standalone mode without a Bluetooth link.

Gear Fit goes on sale in April. There's intense speculation about its price tag, as Samsung juggles its future in the emerging wearables category following some very successful years of selling smartphone and tablet models.

Apple, Google and Microsoft are all expected to launch smartwatches or smart fitness wearable bands with various functions in 2014.

Samsung is also widely expected to enter the smart glasses category as well.

"Samsung is always about putting out one of everything to see what sticks," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar WorldPanel. "They have so much money that they can afford to launch many devices when others can't -- like HTC, LG, BlackBerry. The list goes on."

But Milanesi said she's concerned that Samsung may spread itself too thin in its product lineup of smartphones and tablets, and perhaps with wearables. "I would argue it's time for Samsung to be more focused as profit margins are getting thinner, even for them. In order to be focused, though, you need a clear vision of where you want to go and who you want to be. Maybe that [should be] Samsung's first priority."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy, however, says Samsung's wearables' strategy could work as well as its strategies in the other categories. "Samsung has taken that I call 'spray and pray' approach, which is to create a ton of different products, see what sticks and force competitors to follow. Samsung has had a lot of success with this approach in phones and tablets and I think it can work well in wearables."

In discussing what price Samsung should charge for the Fit, most analysts note that $300 for the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch, announced last fall, was too high and hurt sales. The new Galaxy Gear 2, announced last week at Mobile World Congress, could be priced at $250 or less to be more competitive, analysts said. The Gear Neo smartwatch (also announced at MWC) has fewer functions than the Gear 2 and should be $100 less than the Gear 2, perhaps $150, they added.

That would leave the Fit at $100 or less, though Samsung could also position the Fit as a stylish alternative to other $100-plus smart fitness bands in the market, allowing Samsung to raise the price well above $100.

For sheer styling, the Fit easily won the greatest number of 'oohs and ahhs' from attendees at MWC, as well as the "Best in Show" award among all mobile devices displayed. "It is absolutely stylish and the kind of design that widens the audience beyond geeks and early adopters," Milanesi said.

Gear Fit should cost no more than $100 to cater to a general fitness audience, though even $200 would make it competitive with FitBit and Nike smart bands, Moorhead pointed out. Unlike most of its competitors, Gear Fit has a color display, but it trades off that feature and the heart rate monitor for a for a relatively short battery life -- three to four days.

Without a carrier subsidy, the Gear Fit would cost up to $300. It also requires a smartphone, which can run $600 or more unlocked, Moorhead noted.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said that Samsung and other smart fitness band makers need to drop the price below $49, or even close to $25, to "really pick up speed."

Samsung built its two new smartwatches (the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo) on the lightweight and adaptable HTML5-based Tizen OS. Android runs the original Gear device.

The Gear Fit will use even simpler software, an unspecified real-time operating system (RTOS) that requires less memory and a less powerful processor than the Gear 2 watches. The updated tech would improve battery live.

Samsung did release an SDK (software developer kit) to allow Android Apps to interact with Gear Fit, which could help overcome a major drawback of many wearables -- too few apps.

"A real-time OS is the only way to go for a device with a tiny battery, but there are no common standards for RTOS's across device makers. That's a limiting factor for the Gear Fit because of the splitting of developers' time" to work on multiple OS's, Moorhead added.

Gold said it isn't clear whether the Samsung RTOS is proprietary, but noted that the QNX OS from BlackBerry is widely used as an embedded RTOS in cars and other devices.

While Samsung's new smartwatches and the Gear Fit might seem purely for consumers and fitness buffs, Samsung officials said wearables are getting plenty of attention from business users.

The potential business users include doctors and nurses who want to quickly check on an alert about a patient instead of digging in a pocket or purse for a smartphone, and stockbrokers looking for faster access to notifications of suddent changes in a stock's price.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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