Samsung's 'let's see what sticks' approach is the right way to do wearables

This time, it's a good thing

TODO alt text

Samsung's wearable line-up ballooned from one to four before midnight struck in Barcelona. This should come as no surprise from a company that savors concocting as many flavors of its gadgets as it can, iterating upon iterating until the blood line is so diluted, it's hard to make out the latest machine's lineage.

But while doing so in the past has caused some branding identity confusion for consumers - wait, was it the Galaxy S4 Zoom I wanted or the Galaxy S4 Active? - Samsung may finally be doing it right when it comes to wearables.

Whereas infinitely branching out from the original has led to media and customer consternation, this time around, Samsung seems to be making the smart move, one that could pay off handsomely.

From the highest level, the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit are palpably different from the abysmally selling Galaxy Gear. Sure, some of that's cosmetic as Samsung has dropped "Galaxy" from this batch. But there's something else at play here; Samsung isn't just creating different versions of the same device. It's creating an entire product segment for customers to peruse and for competitors to fear.

Getting its act together

Initially, Samsung's kitchen sink of wearables - OK, small wash basin of wearables - announced at MWC felt like an attempt at "let's see what sticks and run with it." There's nothing inherently wrong with that approach, especially if you have money to burn, but it can be discomforting as a consumer to feel like a company is using me as a guinea pig for its products and ultimately profits.

Why not focus on making one really great device and selling me that instead of marketing me a bunch of crap that even you're not wholly committed to?

But the more I considered it, the more I came to appreciate what Samsung was doing. It looks to have locked down the flaws of the first Gear, gone back to the drawing board, and ultimately showed off two devices I'd try on in the store (sorry, Gear 2 Neo. You don't quite make the cut). That's not to say I'm still not a guinea pigsin this case, but perhaps that's what's needed for an entirely new product category - real-life research.

While some of the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo's specs carried over from the Galaxy Gear, there are enough fundamental differences in these new smartwatches to make me consider them evolutionary jumps from the original Gear. I don't need revolution; I just need a product that answers the shortcomings of its predecessor and does the important stuff better.

It doesn't hurt that the new smartwatches are running Tizen instead of Android, nor that some of the first's hardware has been shuffled around and resized. If the price is right - and there's no guarantee that it will be - the Gear 2 stands a decent chance of at least out performing the first Gear and setting the stage for the Gear 3, Gear 4 and Gear 5 to soak up market share, with the 2 Neo soaking up the cheaper end.

Gear Fit
Hey, good looking

Unlike how I felt about HTC, I think it's wise of Samsung to offer a cutback version of the Gear 2 in the Gear 2 Neo and broaden out the product line-up. I will be singing a different tune if the Samsung tries to pull a fast one on the price, but I'll reserve judgment on that piece until the numbers come out.

The real standout in Samsung's MWC announcements was the Gear Fit, a sharp looking fitness tracker that I very much want to try. That curved Super AMOLED display, slim design and added smartwatch functionality - from pictures alone, I'm already muttering "hummina hummina."

Giddy up and go

Samsung seems fixated on dominating the smartwatch/wrist tech space.

Part of domination naturally falls on sheer numbers, and with three distinct new wearables set to hit the market in less than two months, the company has a sizeable jump on its competitors.

We're still waiting for the fabled iWatch, and while I don't doubt it will be a sleek, impressive gadget (Apple prides itself on having the "best" products on the market, not the first), it is undeniably already late to the party.

Same goes for the Google watch. While it may feature something untouchable like Google Glass integration, it will find itself a solo Mountain View flyer next to Samsung's quartet.

Samsung is gambling that its various wearables will not only stick but lay the foundation for iterations to come. From the products it showed today and the strategy it's employing, that gamble looks poised to pay off.

Samsung's wearable line-up is already maturing - though arguably it's still very immature - and will constitute a respectable fleet on the market by the time its closest competitors join in.

As we wait for Apple and Google to show us a wrist-worn device, Samsung is well ahead of the curve. It's doing its homework, learning what held the first Galaxy Gear back and improving for gen-two. Unless it completely falls off course, we should be in for continually improving products as time ticks by.

  • There's plenty to get caught up on with MWC 2014!