Samsung may be trying to one-up rival Apple by admitting to rumors about a smart watch first. While Apple remains mum about an iWatch, Samsung told Bloomberg it is developing a wristwatch that will act as a wearable smartphone of sorts.
"We've been preparing the watch product for so long," Lee Young Hee, executive vice president of Samsung's mobile business, said during an interview with Bloomberg. "We are working very hard to get ready for it. We are preparing products for the future, and the watch is definitely one of them."
Lee did not ante up any info on the specific features a wearable Samsung watch might offer, when it would roll out or how much it would cost. But it's still more than the world knows about the rumored Apple iWatch.
Rushing to Wearables
The motivation for Samsung, Apple and others to get into the wearable computing --and specifically the smart watch business -- is clear. According to Citigroup analyst Oliver Chen, the global watch industry witnessed more than $60 billion in sales in 2013 alone.
Chen estimates the gross margins are about 60 percent on watches, so entering the watch market could be more profitable for Apple than entering the TV market. Anand Srinivasan, a Bloomberg Industries analyst, said gross margins on watches are four times bigger than for televisions.
"This can be a $6 billion opportunity for Apple, with plenty of opportunity for upside if they create something totally new like they did with the iPod -- something consumers didn't even know they needed," Bloomberg quoted Chen, who covers luxury-goods retailers, as saying in an article earlier this month.
Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, said we've reached a tipping point in the size and cost of the electronics that go into wearable devices.
"Perhaps even more importantly, some of these devices are not really standalone," Greengart told us. "You need to connect to a computer with communications capabilities. And guess what? We now carry a computer with communications capabilities with us everywhere we go. They are known as smartphones.
"Smartphones have operating systems that allow developers to extend their functionality. The combination of inexpensive miniaturized technologies that can be deployed on things you clip on, wrap on or put on -- and eventually maybe even embed -- coincides with the rise of the smartphone itself as the platform to make some of these devices useful by tracking data they generate or generating data for them."
Greengart said consumers could perform interesting tasks with some of the smartphone technologies. In some cases consumers can move them out of the phone to a place on the body that's more accessible, whether that's the eyes with Google Glass or the wrist with an iWatch.
"Finally, we have technology that in some cases may make more sense as a device that's strapped to you than a device that's in your pocket or in your bag," Greengart said. "NFC, for example, might make more sense on your wrist than on the phone, rather than fishing your phone out of the bag, unlocking it and pushing three buttons, then tapping it."