I look at my Gear S2 in the mornings at about a quarter past 10am and pull down the notification window to see the word “standalone.” I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s nice to make phone calls and send texts from my wrist, but my desire for a standalone smartwatch is frustrated with each new app download on my Gear S2. Each time I have to connect via Bluetooth to my Galaxy Note 5 to download an app, I’m reminded that my smartwatch is “semi-standalone” – but the true standalone smartwatch, the “Holy Grail” of smartwatches, the smartwatch that need never connect to my Galaxy Note 5 or any other smartphone for that matter, will never come to fruition.
Yes, this seems odd to say in talking about the Korean giant who’s never imposed limitations upon itself but seems to always push the boundaries of everything in the current tech world. At the same time, however, Samsung has shown us its plans for the Gear S2 and all other Gear smartwatches to come: they’re all meant to become a part of an ecosystem where the Gear smartwatch(es) is connected to everything else. This interconnectedness cannot be sustained if smartwatches are self-sufficient in and of themselves and have little dependence upon smartphones or smart TVs, among other smart appliances. Before you disagree, continue reading.
Do you think the Gear S2 3G smartwatch is self-sufficient and truly standalone? You’ll be hit with a reality check the first time you prepare to select the “get apps” feature on the Gear S2. You’ll see the smartwatch attempt to connect via Bluetooth to your Galaxy smartphone (I hate it when I have to use Bluetooth), which reminds you that it isn’t as standalone as you’d like it to be.
With that said, let’s remember, though, that the Gear S2 3G smartwatch is more standalone than any other smartwatch on the market – however, you still have to download Gear S2 apps to your phone in order to access them on the smartwatch.
The Gear Manager app is a resignation from Samsung that no matter how potent the smartwatch is, it’ll never be truly standalone. If you want to customize your notifications, however, you’ll have to do it by way of Samsung’s Gear Manager app. The name of the app, “Gear Manager,” assumes that the Gear S2 needs managing by way of another device; in Samsung’s case, the Gear S2 needs management from Galaxy or Android smartphones. This is the case, even with the 3G model.
Remember the “It’s Not a Phone, It’s a Galaxy” commercials? They are well-crafted, no doubt, but you shouldn’t be so consumed by how well-crafted they are that you overlook the message in them. Samsung’s statement “It’s Not a Phone, It’s a Galaxy” is not just a reaction to Apple’s “If It’s Not an iPhone, It’s Not an iPhone” ad slogan; it’s also Samsung’s own statement about its products. The Galaxy smartphone is a “Galaxy,” a world of its own – and the Gear S2 is an accessory, a component, of that world.
However, making the phone the “Galaxy” begs the question: Where does all this leave the Gear S2 and future Gear smartwatches? The answer is the following: the Galaxy smartphone is the “Galaxy,” and the Gear S2, Gear S3, and future Gear S smartwatches are “planets” within the Galaxy. Sure, the Gear S2, like planets, will have some self-sustaining features, but planets and the Gear S2 cannot be completely detached from what’s going on in “the solar system” -- both in mobile and in the universe.
Notice that the Gear S2 is never called “the Galaxy.” Samsung has never marketed the Gear S2 by saying, “It’s not a smartwatch, it’s a Galaxy.” Of course, had Samsung never dropped “Galaxy” from the Gear lineup name, it could’ve marketed the smartwatch this way; I think it dropped the name for a number of reasons, but the implication is clear: the Gear S2 is an accessory, but every accessory must have a referent. In Samsung’s case, it’s the world of the Galaxy smartphone lineup. Even in 2016, Samsung’s smartphones still have central importance in its mobile device lineup – both for its technological future and sales.
Another shocking blow to the Holy Grail of smartwatches, the standalone smartwatch, is that the Gear S2 is more connected to “The Galaxy” (the phone) than the Gear S ever was. If you don’t believe me, select the “Flipboard” app on the Gear S2, and watch it attempt to connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone. Samsung’s old News Briefing app on the Gear S didn’t need to connect to Bluetooth to provide the news, right on your wrist. You could select an article in the News Briefing app and read it in its entirety on the two-inch, curved Super AMOLED display on last year’s smartwatch. The Gear S only mandated that you download apps onto the phone first, but once that was done, you could live alone with the Gear S. Reading the news was a truly, standalone, on-the-wrist affair.
News Briefing has now been replaced by Flipboard’s own news app, but you don’t get the standalone feel that Samsung’s News Briefing app had. Of course, News Briefing was never Flipboard, but that’s what I liked about it: Samsung could do its own thing with the news. Now, however, you get Flipboard-style news but you’ll have to click “show on phone” in order to read full-length news stories on a daily basis. The Gear S2 has reduced the Gear smartwatch’s “standalone” status, and the Holy Grail of smartwatches is now even more unattainable than it’s ever been.
Samsung’s CES 2016 announcement yesterday evening follows in the same vein as Samsung’s plans for its Galaxy smartphones: the Gear S2 for iOS announcement (or Gear S2 for iPhone, for those who only care about the iPhone) shows that the Gear S2 will be more of an accessory than a Galaxy of its own. Instead of seeing the Gear S2 gain more standalone capabilities, we’re seeing the device become tethered to more and more smartphones on competing mobile OSes.
Samsung isn’t making the Gear S2 a “Galaxy” of its own because of its connectedness to the Gear Manager app, as well as its marketing of the smartphone as the center of all mobile devices, but there’s another reason, too: Samsung has bigger plans for the Gear S2 and future Gear smartwatches in Tizen and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Internet of Things is a concept that wants to take all our mobile devices, connect them to the internet, and by so doing, connect them to each other. Currently, you can see the weather on your smartphone, smartwatch, and tablet, for example, but if your thermostat could connect to your devices, you could see the weather as well as the temperature in the room – which you could then either turn up or down as you please. The Internet of Things will provide information on more than the weather outdoors, or the stocks, but also information about life inside your home. You’ll be able to use your Gear S2 in the future to turn up or down the oven temperature so that your cookies bake to perfection. What could be more perfect than this?
The Internet of Things implies “things,” plural, not singular. Recent Samsung patents show the company creating an experience where the Gear S2 can be used to play games on Samsung’s Smart TVs; with a wave of your wrist, you could cut on the air conditioner or heating in your home, and so on. These Gear S2 capabilities show us that Samsung’s got more in store for its Gear smartwatch lineup than ever before, but these new capabilities will mandate interaction with other devices. Think of Samsung’s IoT program as the Gear S2, permanently tethered.
The Gear S2 isn’t a Galaxy of its own; however, this isn’t a fact to fear, but a reality to celebrate. Consumers often try to predict the nature of where tech companies like Samsung will go, but sometimes, our predictions are too shortsighted. Samsung wants to connect all its devices to the Internet for IoT, and the Gear S2 can’t connect to other devices if it’s meant to be a standalone smartwatch to match the “Holy Grail” smartwatch concept many have in mind.
As I write these things, though, I can humbly acknowledge that at some point in the future, even my prediction may be shortsighted. For now, though, it seems that Samsung isn’t making the Gear S2 a standalone all-star, but one all-star in a team full of all-stars – with the Galaxy smartphone lineup as the center of it all, and the Gear S2 as an accessory that consumers can’t live without. With tech, as with life, it takes teamwork to make the dream work.