Every year around this time, Mobile World Congress gets underway in Barcelona. As the premiere mobile conference in the world, you can bet your boots that there will be some big announcements made in the world of smartphone and tablets, so stay tuned for news throughout the upcoming week.
As with all such conferences, there are some announcements made to the press before the conference opens its doors to the general public, and this year is no exception.
One of the early bits of big news comes from Samsung, which announced the new Galaxy Gear 2 smart watch. A lot was made of the first generation of the Gear upon its launch last year, and despite a few ardent users, it hasn’t exactly burned up sales records. That’s probably to be expected for a first generation product in a space that hasn’t exactly proven itself with consumers; indeed, many users still seem to be extremely wary of wearables. But the hesitation for the category wasn’t the only reason there wasn’t much adoption of the first-gen Galaxy Gear.
In addition to a relatively meager battery life, the first-gen Gear was relatively bulky, meaning it wouldn’t pass discretely like a typical wristwatch. There were also a few curious choices, most noticeably the awkwardly-placed camera.
These problems have been partially addressed in the new Gear 2. The new version will be a millimeter thinner and somewhat lighter, though it will otherwise have roughly the same dimensions, so it’ll be a touch more discreet … but only a touch. The battery in the new model is rated to last two to three days (as opposed to the one day that many people were getting with the first gen model), which means you won’t have to rush to the charger as soon as you get home. And the camera has been repositioned closer to the face of the watch instead of around the corner and down the band.
In addition, the new Gear 2 increases water resistance and dust resistance, as well as adding health tracking capabilities (no doubt in response to the growing popularity of the devices like the Fitbit and the Fuelband). The Gear 2 can also store music and stream it to a Bluetooth headset, giving you some tunes for your run.
The biggest change this time out, however, is that Samsung has finally followed through and dumped Android for its own Tizen operating system. Like Android, Tizen is based on Linux, but even though the new Tizen-based Gear watches will be compatible with a number of Samsung’s Android phones, the watch won’t be able to run previously-written (and purchased) Android apps. At launch, the number of compatible smartphones will also be limited, but obviously the goal will be to make the Gear 2 compatible with more smartphones down the road.
It’s also worth noting that the Gear 2’s adoption of Tizen isn’t yet the big prize for this up-and-coming operating system: Samsung has yet to offer up a handset powered by this new OS. (We’ll see if any of the smartphone manufacturers drop a Tizen handset during the upcoming week, but it’s expected it may still be a while until you see a Tizen handset offered for sale.)
If you don’t particular care for the idea of having a camera on your wrist, Samsung is also launching the Galaxy Gear Neo, which is largely the same apart from the lack of camera on the edge of the watch.
Both of these new products are expected to hit the market in April; pricing for both is still to be determined.
Sensitivities about the Fitbit Force
Speaking of Fitbit, the company has announced a voluntary recall of the Fitbit Force, and has temporarily halted all sales of the unit. The reason: there have been issues reported by some users reporting severe skin rashes after wearing the health-tracking units.
After an investigation to determine why some users were having problems, Fitbit figured it might be nickel in the stainless steel (though it notes the nickel on the watch’s inside surface meets the most stringent regulatory standards for same), a reaction to the materials in the strap, or the adhesives used in the unit.
Whether you’ve been affected or not, Fitbit has offered a full refund for any users of the Force who wish to return it. More details are here:
Still to be determined: what this will mean for the firmware update to the Force that would add call-display functionality for iOS users. The firmware update was scheduled to push out in February, but this hiccup may throw a slight wrench into things for those users who choose to keep their unit.