Apple’s smartwatch dominance, which saw it ship more Apple Watch units than the entire Swiss watch industry, means competitors will have to find new creative ways to steal away some of that market share. Samsung could be best placed to do just that.
A recent patent for a potential upcoming Samsung device caught my eye. No, it’s not for a new smartwatch – rather a new smart speaker with a flexible display. In essence the device has a typical cylindrical shape you’d expect from a smart speaker, but it has a display that wraps around the outside of the device. It then unfolds, when needed, into a flat square screen.
The Korean company is clearly planning to use its new foldable manufacturing skills on more than just smartphones, which could potentially include a smart watch.
Samsung’s current Gear and Galaxy smartwatch range – whilst capable – has not, and may never, replicate the popularity of the Apple Watch. But a foldable screen wearable might. One of the core issues with current smartwatches is that the small display is limiting. Messages – or any text – is awkward to read – but a watch with a display that can extend potentially solves that issue.
As smartwatches become more capable and take on more functionality, they will always be limited by the small display. Having a watch that can operate independently of your phone with access to your most-used apps is hampered by the fact that you have to squint – or pull out your phone – to read to a simple message.
A foldable Gear, however, could be truly independent of a smartphone with a display that’s big enough to read text, use fully functional apps and house a passable virtual keyboard. Such a device would straddle the intersection between wearable and smartphone (we know how tech companies like to find new categories) and potentially replace both.
The issue would be design. Lenovo demoed a similar concept in 2016 that could switch between a thick bracelet and something that looked like a smartphone. The most recent effort came from Nubia, which made a more complete smartwatch with a 4-inch display and close-to smartphone functionality.
But the design issue remains. Lenovo’s concept was cumbersome and Nubia’s Alpha – whilst impressive – is quite clunky and has a strong cyberpunk theme to it, which might not appeal to the masses.
Minimising the thickness of the strap that houses the display – or finding a new way for the display to fold out – will be key. Because technically impressive feats don’t necessarily translate to sales – the device needs to be as slick and well executed as an Apple Watch but with entirely different functionality. If there’s any company that can pull both of those off, it’s Samsung.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Apple’s smartwatch supremacy is unshakeable, but as we’ve seen with the Motorola Razr, it’s possible to excite customers with a new innovation and instantly become a big player.
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