TIME Wearables

Android Wear Face-Off: LG G Watch vs. Samsung Gear Live

LG's G Watch (left) and Samsung's Gear Live (right) Jared Newman for TIME

How to pick a smartwatch if you're one of Android Wear's earliest adopters.

Let’s say you plan to ignore the advice of most reviews and buy an Android Wear smartwatch right now. Even though more stylish designs are on the way, you’ve got money to spend and want to see what the fuss is about.

How do you choose between Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G Watch? After using each one over the last couple of weeks, I think it’s pretty easy to decide. But first, let’s go through the pros and cons of each watch:

Style

You won’t win a lot of style points for either watch, as they are both thick, square slabs that take up a lot of space across the wrist. In fact, if you hold them next to each other, the watch bodies, bezels and screens are almost exactly the same size.

Where Samsung’s Gear Live stands out, though, is the use of metal around the body and on the clasp under your wrist. The watch band also appears thinner due to its tapered edges, and the snap-in mechanism is less bulky than the G Watch’s more traditional buckle. The Gear Live is a bit gaudier, but it also makes a statement. That’s more my style, given that neither watch is understated to begin with.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Features

The Gear Live and G Watch have almost exactly the same features, as they are required to run the same Android Wear software. Samsung does include a heart rate monitor, but I had trouble getting consistent readings and question whether this is a useful feature anyway. (If you can check your own pulse, you can just as easily measure it with the basic stopwatch function on either watch.)

The G Watch’s best feature, oddly enough, is its selection of watch faces. It has a lot of sharp-looking ones that Samsung doesn’t, and while this will become less of an issue as more third-party watch faces hit the Google Play Store, it’s nice to have some quality faces out of the box.

Advantage: LG G Watch, slightly

Jared Newman for TIME

Comfort

As I mentioned above, the Samsung Gear Live’s watch band has a couple of pins on the end, which you snap into any two holes further up the band. The G Watch has a standard buckle that keeps the watch securely fastened, along with a loop of plastic for holding down the excess strap material.

I found the Gear Live’s band to be more comfortable overall, with ridges on the inside that let your wrist breathe a bit, and it’s nice not to have any excess material to deal with. By comparison, the G Watch’s flat, rubberized band seemed to make my wrist feel sticky and sweaty before long. Both watches do have removable straps, at least.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Battery and Charging

This one isn’t even close. Not only does LG’s G Watch have a larger battery, it also has a better charging cradle that you can just drop the watch onto at night. It’s much more convenient than the Samsung Gear Live’s charging pod, which needs to be snapped onto the underside of the watch in a particular way.

You’ll likely want to charge either watch every night, which actually isn’t a big deal once you get in the habit. (In a way, it’s better than having to charge every few days, because the nightly charge becomes routine.) But the need for a nightly top-up makes a convenient charging mechanism all the more important.

Advantage: LG G Watch

Jared Newman for TIME

Display Quality

In theory, the 320-by-320 resolution AMOLED panel on Samsung’s Gear Live should be the winner over LG’s 280-by-280 LCD screen, as it provides sharper images and better viewing angles.

But the G Watch does have one advantage in its outdoor readability. While neither watch performs well in direct sunlight, LG’s watch does a slightly better job of fending off the sun’s glare at full brightness. It’s not a big enough difference to beat the Gear Live’s display overall, but it does make the displays closer in quality than they look on paper.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live, slightly

Verdict

Style and comfort are extremely important to me considering this is something I have to wear every day, and the Gear Live’s advantages in those areas outweigh its pesky charger and inferior watch faces. (If I was buying one myself, the Gear Live’s $199 price tag compared to $229 for the LG G Watch wouldn’t hurt.)

LG’s G Watch is still worth considering for some users, especially those who plan to swap in their own straps. But I’m not going that route, so the Samsung Gear Live will be my go-to smartwatch as I continue to get a feel for Android Wear.

TIME Gadgets

Too Many Android Wear Apps Are Missing the Point

Jared Newman for TIME

Watered-down smartphone apps are spreading like weeds on Google's new wearable platform.

If you want an example of everything wrong with smartwatch apps right now, just look at all the Android Wear calculators.

I currently count four calculator apps for Google’s wearable platform, and they’re all useless. You need pinpoint touch precision to enter each number, and none of the apps include a backspace key for when you inevitably mistype something. Using a calculator app on your phone would be faster and less frustrating.

These unnecessary calculator apps underscore the biggest challenge for Android Wear–and for that matter, all smartwatches–right now: Most people are happy to just take out their smartphones, so there’s little need for a watch that tries to do all the same things on a smaller screen.

For smartwatches to make sense, they need to go beyond what a phone can do on its own. That idea seems lost on developers who are creating weak imitations of existing smartphone apps, including games, drawing apps, flashlights and calendars.

Google has tried to discourage these kinds of apps, both in its documentation (“inputs requiring fine-grained motor skills are avoided”) and through Wear’s interface, which deliberately makes smartphone-like apps difficult to launch. But developers are undeterred. In fact, someone has even come out with a third-party app launcher for Wear that seems likely to encourage more bad behavior.

Even some of the highlighted Android Wear apps in the Google Play Store miss the point: Why would anyone want to browse Tinder on a smartwatch, when the smartphone version offers a better experience? How often are you really going to ask the Eat24 app for delivery when you can only get exactly what you’ve ordered in the past?

To make the case for smartwatches, developers need to think more critically about the apps they’re building. To that end, I think it might help to consider a few basic questions:

  • Does the app provide a useful service in specific situations where taking out a phone is impractical?
  • Does the watch show users something important that they’d miss if they didn’t take out their phones in time?
  • Does the watch app save significant time without sacrificing significant functionality?

Android Wear does have a handful of apps that answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, and app makers should take inspiration from these good examples.

Last weekend, for instance, I played a round of golf with help from the Golfshot app. After using the smartphone app to select the course I was playing on, the watch provided a constant read-out of my distance from the hole. If I was any good at golf, this would have been tremendously helpful for deciding which club to use, as my phone was safely stowed away in my golf bag for the rest of the outing. (See question number one.) It’d be even better if the app let you enter a score at the end of each hole, but this is a fine start.

Delta’s Android app is another example of a wearable app done right. If you check into a flight on your phone, the watch provides up to date boarding information right on your wrist (question two) and presents your boarding pass to use at the gate (question three).

Similarly, Allthecooks’ Android Wear functions can save time by showing recipe instructions on your wrist. Having those instructions follow you around the kitchen makes a lot more sense than having to constantly look back to your phone or tablet for reference.

One of the big criticisms of smartwatches so far is that they only make life more complicated. They represent another device to carry, another screen to keep charged every night, another set of apps to deal with.

The thing that interests me about Android Wear is its potential to simplify, presenting information in a way that helps us think about our phones less often. That’s not going to happen if developers keep taking the easy path, turning Android Wear into another screen full of apps.

TIME Smartwatches

Android Wear Review: The Watch That Wants to Save You From Your Phone

Jared Newman for TIME

Google's smartwatch platform shows promise, but needs better hardware and smarter features.

A funny thing has happened to me over the last week and a half, as I’ve been reviewing a couple Android Wear smartwatches from LG and Samsung: Instead of being the guy who takes out his phone at every opportunity, I’ve become the one who stands idly by while other people thumb around on their handsets.

It’s not that I’m always fiddling with the screen on my wrist instead; I’m actually spending less time interacting with screens in general. By having all my phone’s notifications in view, I can ignore the ones that aren’t important and quickly deal with the ones that are. And because the phone stays in my pocket, I’m not tempted to spend the next five minutes looking at Twitter or Facebook. Against all logic, tethering a computer to my wrist has been liberating.

But is that idea enough to convince people to start wearing watches again? It’s doubtful, especially in Android Wear’s current form.

Right now, there are two smartwatches that run on Google’s Android Wear platform. Samsung’s Gear Live costs $199 and is a bit gaudy with its metallic trim and slim snap-on wristband, while the $229 LG G Watch strikes a more utilitarian look with a rubberized band and all-plastic finish. In both cases, the aesthetic leans toward “geek badge of honor,” thanks to clunky rectangular bodies and thick black bezels around the displays. (I’ll compare the two watches more in a future post, as I’ve only spent a day with LG’s model. My quick impressions are that Samsung has the better screen and more appealing design, while LG’s drop-in dock is more convenient for nightly charging.)

The Notification Machine

Like other smartwatches on the market already, such as the Pebble and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear line, Android Wear puts your phone’s notifications on your wrist. But what stands about Google’s approach is how little effort it takes to view these notifications and take action on them with a swipe or voice command.

With Android Wear, there’s hardly any setup involved. Everything’s tied to the actionable notifications on Android phones, so once you’ve paired the watch over Bluetooth, you can immediately do things like manage e-mails, dismiss text messages, control the phone’s music playback, glance at sports scores and get traffic alerts from Google Now. The screen stays in greyscale mode until you tap it or tilt it toward you, at which point you can view each notification by flicking upward.

Jared Newman for TIME

 

This can lead to some delightful moments as you get in the habit of glancing at your wrist for information. Last weekend, for instance, I made a quick trip to the grocery store to grab some breakfast items when I caught a notification from Todo Cloud, a free smartphone app that supports location-based reminders. It was telling me to pick up some pasta–something I’d reminded myself to do earlier–and I would have missed the message if it hadn’t been waiting on my wrist. Without any extra effort on my part, Android Wear saved me a return trip to the store.

It helps that the software is smooth and responsive, and generally runs without any glitches, but I do have a few nitpicks: It takes a little too long for the system to recognize swiping after the screen lights up, and I wish you could un-dismiss a notification if you accidentally swipe it away. It’d also be nice if the main screen had an icon bar, like the one on Android phones, so you could get a high-level view of which notifications are waiting.

Android Wear will also face some natural growing pains, as a lot of third-party apps still haven’t optimized their code for wearables. For example, Secret can notify you when a friend posts, but doesn’t show you the actual post on the watch. You can retweet or “favorite” a Twitter mention, but you can’t reply directly by voice. In WhatsApp, there’s no way to view full messages, reply to them or mark them as read. Because Android Wear is supposed to just work, it’s disappointing when these apps don’t.

That same kind of uncertainty carries over to Android Wear’s voice commands, which you trigger by tapping the main screen or saying “OK Google.” This is useful for quickly dictating a text message, setting a reminder or pulling up turn-by-turn directions, but most third-party apps don’t work with voice — and the handful that do require you to memorize specific syntax. Voice recognition also stumbles in some areas, always recognizing “Android Wear” as “Android Where,” for instance, and failing to interpret punctuation commands like “comma” and “question mark.” I quickly learned to avoid voice unless I knew exactly what I was going to get in response.

Why Not Just Take Out Your Phone?

A lot of the above issues are annoyances rather than dealbreakers. But as Google tries to improve the platform, there’s a more fundamental dilemma that Android Wear needs to figure out: If most people are happy to whip out their phones, why would they care about a device that spares them from doing so?

The answer, I think, will come from functions that are not as practical on a smartphone–things you might not do at all if you have to take the device out of your pocket. Android Wear lays a foundation for these kinds of uses, but doesn’t provide nearly enough of them.

Going back to my grocery store example, while I was shopping I also saw another notification from Google Wallet, letting me know that I was close to the in-store Starbucks. The reminder alone wasn’t useful, but imagine if Wallet had gone a step further and put my Starbucks card’s barcode on my wrist. If every loyalty card, coupon, ticket and boarding pass could pop up in the right location, I wouldn’t even have to think about reaching for my wallet or phone. This is definitely possible with Android Wear–Delta is already doing it for boarding passes–but it’s not a centerpiece of the platform right now.

Likewise, Google has promised the ability to unlock your smartphone or Chromebook with a paired Android Wear device, and it’s easy to imagine this capability expanding to sensitive third-party apps in the future. But even the basic unlocking feature won’t arrive until the next version of Android comes out this fall.

What we have now is a classic Google work-in-progress. The software needs more ways to surpass the abilities of users’ smartphones, and the hardware needs to get thinner, lighter and less clunky. (Motorola’s Moto 360 watch will bring some much-needed style to the lineup later this summer, but it’s not a panacea for bulky tech.) And while I’m not bothered by the one-day battery life of these watches, they need more convenient ways to recharge overnight, such as a wireless charging mat on your nightstand. Until the hardware and software are further along, saving yourself from your phone should probably wait.

TIME Big Picture

Where Wearable Health Gadgets Are Headed

fitbit
A person wearing a Fitbit fitness band types on a laptop Getty Images

Every once in a while, I’m shown a tech product and I can’t figure out why it was created. One great example of this was a two-handed mouse I was shown at large R&D-based company many years ago.

I was asked to review it to see if they should bring it to market. After trying to use it and viewing the complicated things you had to do to make it work, I told them it would never succeed. However, the engineer behind it was convinced he had created the next great mouse and was determined to try and get it to market. Thankfully, the management at this company killed it, as it would have been a complete failure and provided no real value to any customer. However, the technology was available to create it and this engineer did it because he could.

In the world of tech, most successful products address serious needs that people have. This is very much the case behind the current movement to create all types of wearable devices designed to make people healthier.

Folks behind products like the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuel, Fitbit and others have solid backgrounds in exercise and exercise science. They wanted to create stylish wearable products that could be used to monitor steps, count calories and track various other fitness metrics. Other products such as ones from iHealth, which has created a digital blood pressure device and a blood glucose testing kit that are tied to smartphones, were designed by people close to the health industry who saw a need to create products that could utilize digital technology to power new health monitoring tools.

At a personal level, I’m pleased that these folks are utilizing key technologies like accelerometers, sensors, Bluetooth low-energy radios and new types of semiconductors to create products that aim to impact people’s health. Readers of this column may remember that two years ago I suffered a heart attack and had a triple bypass. As you can imagine, this provided a serious wake up call to me about taking better care of myself. Since then, my Nike Fuelband has been my 24-hour wearable companion: I check its step-monitoring readout religiously to make sure I get the 10,000 steps in each day that my doctor has required of me as part of my recovery regimen.

While I would like to think that these tech folks are doing it for the altruistic reasons, the bottom line is that there is a lot of money to be made in health-related wearables. The folks from IHS published a good report last year on the market for wearables, which are mostly driven by health-related apps.

Most researchers that track this market believe that the wearable health market will represent at least $2 billion in revenue worldwide by 2018. In many developed countries around the world, people are becoming much more health conscious. Reports seem to come out daily, talking about the good or bad effects some foods have on our lives. And more and more, we hear that we need to exercise to either maintain our health or to improve it.

So a combination of the right technology becoming available and an increased awareness for better health has created this groundswell of health-related wearable devices and digital monitoring tools designed to help people have healthier lives. But there is another major reason that we are seeing more and more health-related wearables and digital monitoring products come to market now. This is driven by most healthcare providers and is one of their major initiatives: In simple terms, it’s cheaper to keep a person healthy than to cover their costs in the hospital when they’re sick.

Almost all the major health care providers have created web sites with all types of information about managing one’s health. These sites have information and programs for cancer patients, diabetics, and many other health issues that help people better manage these diseases. Health insurers are also really getting behind the various digital monitoring tools and health wearables, too, viewing them as vital tools that can help their customers stay healthier and keep them out of the hospital as much as possible.

Interestingly, as I talk to many of the executives of these health-related wearable companies, many of them claim to be on a mission. Yes, they admit there is money to be made, but most I speak with are serious about giving people the technology to help them keep themselves healthy. In fact, in at least two cases, the executives I have talked to have special funds they personally set aside to donate to major health causes as part of their personal commitment to using technology to make people healthier.

While there is some chatter about the market for wearable technology not being a sustainable one, I suspect that it will stay on track to eventually become integrated into everyday objects such as watches, hats and even clothes, becoming part of a broader trend called “self-health monitoring.” This trend basically says that people will want to have more and more information about calories the number of calories they’ve burned, the number of steps they’ve steps taken, their pulse and other metrics. Thanks to these new technologies, this data would be available to them in a variety of ways.

Of course, not everyone may want to know these health-related data points, but the research shows that at least one-fourth of U.S. adults have these types of health-related wearable monitoring devices on their personal radars. The fact that this market is growing around 20% or more each year suggests that we could continue to see growth for at least another three years. As these devices become part of our wardrobes, they could eventually fade into the background while still providing health-related info that many people may need to stay motivated. This is the goal that the tech world has embraced wholeheartedly, providing more and better tools for this purpose.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Smartwatches

5 Quick Impressions of an Android Wear Smartwatch

Jared Newman for TIME

Here's what it's like to wear a Google-powered smartwatch for a day.

A smartwatch isn’t the kind of thing you can review overnight. It takes a while to get a sense of how useful it is in daily life, how well the design works and how comfortable it feels.

But having spent the day with the Samsung Gear Live, one of the first smartwatches for Google’s Android Wear platform, I’m at least starting to form some first impressions. Here are a handful of things that come to mind after having Android Wear on my wrist for most of the day:

Deleting unwanted e-mails is my killer app: Like most other tech writers, my inbox is constantly overrun with junk–usually PR pitches that are incredibly boring or irrelevant. So far, the best part of Android Wear is the ability to delete these e-mails with a swipe and a tap, leaving only the messages that actually matter. My only complaint is that the delete confirmation stays on the screen for a half-second too long. In other words, I still can’t get rid of unwanted e-mails fast enough.

The “reach for your phone” instinct is tough to shake: There were a couple of times throughout the day when, out of instinct, I reached into my pocket see if I’d missed any notifications on my phone. Android Wear is supposed to prevent you from having to check your phone all the time, but I think this will be a tough habit to break.

I’m much more aware of Google Now, now: The problem with Google Now on a smartphone is that it’s trying to give you timely information, but you might not see it unless you take out your phone and open the Google Search app. With a smartwatch, those same Google Now cards are sitting on your wrist, where you’re far less likely to miss them. This can be annoying–I don’t constantly need to see, for instance, that my flight tonight is on time–but hopefully I’ll get enough useful tidbits to make Google Now’s presence worthwhile.

“Mute” is a must-have feature, but could be better: If we’re going to start strapping computers to our wrists, we’ll need a way to shut them off, letting people know that we won’t be constantly distracted. Cleverly, Android Wear lets you turn off notifications by swiping down from the top of the screen. It’s a great feature for any smartwatch, but it leaves me wondering why it doesn’t silence my smartphone as well.

It’s unfinished: This is currently an unreleased product, so a few bugs and missing features are to be expected. So far, I haven’t been able to get directions on the watch or respond to text messages by voice. Many apps aren’t optimized for Android Wear yet, and some of the features Google has announced won’t be available until later this year, including the ability to skip the password screen on a paired Android phone or Chromebook.

I also realize I haven’t scratched the surface of what Android Wear can do. As I spend more time with the watch, I’ll be looking for apps that work well, and testing things like Chromecast playback and music controls. The LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live both launch on July 7, so consider these impressions a work in progress–kind of like Android Wear itself.

TIME Apple

Apple’s iWatch to Come in Multiple Sizes, Pack 10 Sensors: WSJ

Apple is reportedly getting close to launching its much-rumored smartwatch. The Wall Street Journal reports that the tech powerhouse is working on a new device that will be available in “multiple screen sizes” and will pack “more than 10 sensors” to track users’ fitness. A flurry of reports suggest the device will be different from the company’s other gadgets in that it will be able to collect data without the need for a tethered mobile device.

The newest rumor adds to a recent New York Times report which indicated that Apple was testing new ways to charge its wearable without plugging it in. The WSJ suggest that production may begin in the coming weeks ahead of an October launch.

Check out five of the coolest iWatch mockups here.

[WSJ]

TIME Wearables

Fancy Bluetooth Ring Connects to Your Phone for Discreet Alerts

Over at Wired, Liz Stinson profiles a tech-infused ring — called Ringly — that looks like costume jewelry (I only know what “costume jewelry” means after being with my wife for a decade). This ring sports a Bluetooth chipset, however, and pairs with your phone to discreetly alert you to calls, text messages, email and other notifications that’d otherwise steal your attention away. You can customize the alerts as one of four vibration patterns or one of five different colors.

Speaking to the ring’s creator, Christina Mercando, Stinson’s piece contains a quote that pretty much perfectly sums up what’s going on here:

“The fashion world is blown away; they can’t believe something like this exists,” says Mercando. “And the technology world is like, is that all it does?”

People who have been writing about gadgets for more than a couple years will instantly recall HTC’s Rhyme smartphone, a device awkwardly marketed to women by way of a little cube-shaped charm that plugged into the headphone jack and lit up when calls and texts came through. The idea was apparently that you could leave your phone in your purse, and stretch the charm outside your purse so you could see if someone was trying to get a hold of you. Our own Jared Newman took two for the team, first writing about the phone and then reviewing it.

High-tech rings pair with your phone to discreetly alert you to calls, messages and more Ringly

While Rhyme sales probably didn’t make HTC’s year in 2011, Ringly might have a shot. For starters, the ring itself will cost almost as much as an on-contract smartphone — just shy of $200 at retail, though pre-orders are going for $145. So it’s already a luxury item: It’s available in a handful of different designs and contains 18-karat gold.

More importantly, it doesn’t look like a ridiculous gadget you strap on your body somewhere. I showed a picture of one of the rings to my wife, who immediately identified it as costume jewelry, not some newfangled wearable device housing a power-sipping Bluetooth Low Energy chip. Big points for hiding the technology.

So would she wear one? “I would wear it as costume jewelry when going out, sure.” Would she pay $200 for it? “I wouldn’t spend $200 on costume jewelry. A lot of people do, though.”

If you’re going to pay $200 for an oversized ring, why not buy one that pairs with your phone, right?

[WIRED]

TIME

Apple iWatch Coming In October With Health Tracking, Claims Nikkei

Apple Hosts Its Worldwide Developers Conference
Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi speaks during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center on June 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Apple said its operating system, slated for release this fall, will interact with wearable devices that will allow users to wear their health stats on their sleeves

Apple announced on Thursday that its upgraded operating system will support wearable health-monitoring devices as early as this fall, marking the company’s latest maneuver into the fast-growing healthcare market.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that Apple made the announcement at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. While Apple has not yet released details of the device, it is rumored to be a watch-like touchscreen that could be used to monitor vital stats, such as heart rates, calorie intakes, and blood sugar.

The announcement of a wearable device comes on the heels of Apple’s unveiling of “HealthKit,” a health monitoring system that will draw biometric data from a wide range of apps and stitch it into a single “comprehensive” snapshot of health.

[Nikkei]

TIME Wearables

iOS 8 Has the Ingredients for a Pretty Good Apple Watch

Apple didn’t announce an iWatch at its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, nor was it expected to.

But what happened instead was just as intriguing: With iOS 8, Apple quietly laid the groundwork for what could be a great wearable platform, adding the raw ingredients to compete with Google, Samsung and others.

One of the big new features in iOS 8 is interactive notifications, which allow users to directly respond to e-mails, calendar appointments and social media posts without going into the app itself.

Yes, it’s one of several features that Apple “borrowed” from Android, and this may not be a coincidence given that actionable notifications are the centerpiece of Google’s own wearable platform, Android Wear. Instead of just seeing static notifications on your wrist, Android Wear will let you respond to them while leaving your phone in your pocket. Without a similar system in iOS, Apple would have been at a big disadvantage.

Interactive notifications aren’t the only smartwatch-friendly feature in iOS 8. Apple is beefing up Siri with streaming voice (so you can confirm what you’re saying as you talk), support for more languages and the ability to activate voice commands by saying “Hey, Siri.”

Siri will also be able to control home automation setups through HomeKit, which makes a lot of sense for a wearable device. You don’t want to have to dig out your phone or tablet just to tweak the thermostat or turn down the lights.

And of course, there’s Health and HealthKit, which will allow users to keep track of all their fitness tracking applications. Wouldn’t it make sense to keep an eye on these stats while exercising, without having to strap an iPhone onto your shoulder?

I’ll cheerfully admit that the case for an iWatch isn’t airtight. There are still tough hardware problems to solve, including battery efficiency, fashionability (for both men and women) and pricing, and I can still pick out some things I’d like to see on the software side (such as third-party app support in Siri).

But Apple’s never been known to tick every feature box at once. Instead, the company tends to take its time building up from a foundation. In hindsight, that’s exactly what Apple did as it built up iOS on the iPhone, before launching the iPad a few years later. With iOS 8, it’s a lot easier to believe that an iWatch is coming next.

TIME Technologizer

Samsung Announces Simband, a Wearable Health Gadget You Can’t Buy

Samsung Simband
Samsung Electronics president Young Sohn reveals the Simband at an event in San Francisco on May 28, 2014 Harry McCracken / TIME

The Korean electronics giant launches an experimental platform for next-generation digital health

When Samsung announced on May 1 that it was holding a health-related media event in San Francisco on May 28, everybody assumed–reasonably–that it wanted to get some news out before anything health-related which Apple might announce at its WWDC keynote on Monday. But it wasn’t clear what that news might be.

As it turned out, Samsung announced a new health wristband–but not one it plans to sell anytime soon.

Instead, it’s calling its Simband an “investigational device” which will help it meld sensors and other electronics with software and services to create future digital health technology. And rather than being yet another proprietary device such as the company’s Gear smartwatches, Simband is an open platform which Samsung hopes other companies will embrace.

Samsung briefly showed off a Simband during its onstage presentation, but didn’t provide vast amounts of information about the device. It looks much like already-extant smartwatches, with a square case and a large color touchscreen, and it packs Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and sensors for measuring factors such as heart rate and oxygen level. Some of the electronics are embedded in the band, giving the engineers responsible for the gadget more space to work with, and there’s a snap-on external “shuttle battery” which lets you recharge the band without removing it from your wrist. (At the event, Samsung Electronics president and chief strategy officer Young Sohn listed 24/7 wearability as one key goal for future devices.)

Along with the Simband, Samsung talked about SAMI, a neat acronym for a tongue-twister of an initiative: Samsung Multimodal Architecture Interaction. SAMI is a cloud-based service for storing the data collected by a gizmo such as the Simband; like the band, it’s an open platform, and Samsung emphasized that consumers stay in control of any information that it stores.

The company says that it’ll make the Simband available to developers later this year, and is already envisioning future versions with sophisticated capabilities–such as a blood glucose monitor–which would make sense to build in once the technology allows. Consumers won’t be able to buy a Simband, but the whole idea is for it to help lead the way to health wearables with mass appeal.

The most interesting thing about Simband is the fact that it’s open. That surely sets it apart from anything Apple might do which is even vaguely similar. It’s a major move for Samsung, too, which would love to be thought of as an world-class innovator rather than an extremely successful copycat.

It also reflects the company’s recent ramping up of its presence in Silicon Valley. Samsung has already opened an innovation center there and announced plans to invest $100 million in startups. As part of Samsung’s announcement today, it also said that it’s working with the University of California at San Francisco on digital healthcare and has $50 million to invest in companies working on next-generation health technologies.

If Simband and SAMI catch on and provide the foundation for an array of devices and services from multiple companies other than Samsung, what the company announced today could amount to a sort of Android of health–a universal platform shared by almost everybody who isn’t Apple. However, it’s way too early to come to any conclusions about whether there’s a real chance of that happening.

It’s an intriguing idea, though. And there’s nothing mysterious about Samsung wanting the world to know about the Simband right now, before Apple gets into health–not afterwards, when it might smack of me-too-ism.

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