Samsung and Qualcomm make foray into smartwatch market

Wed Sep 4, 2013 6:04pm EDT
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By Harro Ten Wolde and Miyoung Kim

BERLIN/SEOUL (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Qualcomm Inc unveiled smartwatches on Wednesday, tapping a potential "wearables" market worth an estimated $50 billion as the high-end mobile phone market becomes saturated.

The companies launched the devices at nearly simultaneous events in Berlin and San Diego, and some analysts immediately questioned whether the devices were too costly, with expected prices near $300.

Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch works as an accessory to its market-leading Galaxy smartphone, with a small screen offering basic functions such as photos, hands-free calls and instant messaging.

Qualcomm's "Toq" smartwatch can play music and handle phone calls and messages. It will be the first smartwatch with a touch-enabled "Mirasol" color screen that can be viewed easily in bright sunlight.

The launch by Qualcomm, which dominates the global market for applications processors for smartphones and tablets, is seen not so much as a hot seller but as a "reference" design or device to show off the Mirasol screens, in hopes the display technology will be more widely adopted as wearables of all types take off.

Samsung, which is the world's top handset maker, hopes the Galaxy Gear will boost the appeal of its range of Android-powered smartphones, as it battles to maintain supremacy against arch rival Apple Inc.

Its launch, timed to coincide with the start of the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin, also signals that the South Korean giant is more than just a fast follower in innovation behind Apple, which is preparing to release a new iPhone next week but has yet to go public with any wearable devices.

"I believe it will become a new fashion icon in the world," J.K. Shin, Samsung's co-chief executive and head of mobile business, said at its "Unpacked 2013 Episode 2" event.   Continued...

Shin Jong-kyun, President and CEO, head of IT and Mobile Communication division of Samsung presents the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch during its launch at the 'Samsung UNPACKED 2013 Episode 2' at the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin, September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz