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Samsung Gets Exclusive with the Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

The consensus among those that have test-driven Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear smartwatch is that it’s a good first effort – more style than substance but a good indicator of where we might be headed with a new generation of wearable devices.

Although the functionality of the Gear is somewhat limited – more on that later – the main criticism appears to be the lack of compatibility with other devices. In fact, at the time of launch, the Gear can be paired with only one – yes, just one – smartphone, which is the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Samsung says it will issue software updates by the end of this year, so the Gear will work with the Note 2 and the Galaxy S3 and S4, but that will still leave most other smartphone owners out in the cold.

By designing the Gear for exclusive use with its own Android smartphone collection, Samsung is taking a leaf out of Apple’s playbook. A while ago we wrote about how the tech giants, including Google, Microsoft and Amazon, are increasingly looking to create their own hardware and software eco-systems, and it looks like Samsung now feels it’s big enough and bad enough to do the same.

While it makes perfect sense for tech companies to encourage customers to surround themselves with same-brand devices, it’s not such a good deal for the consumer. I currently have both an Android phone and a Windows phone and enjoy the flexibility of switching from one to the other based on which device is better suited to a certain task. If suddenly every manufacturer wants exclusivity, then I lose that flexibility and risk becoming less productive.

Getting back to the functionality of the Gear, it looks like it handles some tasks well, like making and answering phone calls, taking pictures, and controlling music, but falls woefully short on others, e.g. there is no e-mail support, very few apps, and no social media integration. Also, users have complained that the Gear acts as a good notifications panel but most tasks still require you to reach into your pocket and take out your phone.

The lack of apps goes to the very heart of the exclusivity issue. How many developers are going to create apps that can only run on one smartwatch and four smartphones? The beauty of Android is that it’s a cross-platform system used on everything from the HTC One to the Kindle Fire. Try restricting that cross-platform compatibility and you will end up with apps developed by Samsung and not much else.

The Galaxy Gear is a worthy addition to the ever-expanding world of personal tech, but more as a prototype than a must-have device that you need to rush out and buy (particularly with a price tag of $299). There are good reasons to commit to one tech eco-system over another, but the Galaxy Gear smartwatch isn’t one of them!

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