Nearly 70 years after Dick Tracy began wearing a two-way wrist radio in the funny pages, the technology that once seemed impossibly futuristic is to be widely available by Christmas.
Samsung on Wednesday introduced a digital watch for the holiday season that will let users check messages with a glance at their wrists and have conversations secret-agent style.
So-called smartwatches have been around for several years, but so far they have failed to attract much consumer interest. That may change with the Samsung Galaxy Gear, which offers the company a chance to pull off the same feat Apple did with the iPad — popularize a type of device that has lingered mostly unnoticed on store shelves.
The Gear must be linked wirelessly with a smartphone to perform its full range of functions. It acts as an extension of the phone by discreetly alerting users to incoming messages and calls on its screen, which measures 1.63 inches diagonally.
“With Gear, you’re able to make calls and receive calls without ever taking your phone out of your pocket,” Pranav Mistry, a member of Samsung’s design team, told reporters at the launch in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show.
With smartphones and tablets now ubiquitous, electronics companies are trying to create a new category of products that put advanced computing technology into everyday objects such as wristwatches and glasses. Research firm Gartner projects that wearable smart electronics will be a US$10 billion industry by 2016.
However, Ramon Llamas, an analyst at research firm IDC, said many things have to go right for smartwatches to succeed.
“It can’t just be notifications of how many incoming messages you have,” Llamas said. “Health applications seem to be the low-hanging fruit.”
For starters, the Gear will work with sporting and fitness apps such as RunKeeper, which tracks runs and other workouts.
The Samsung Gear goes on sale on Sept. 25, with prices starting at US$299.