Lubricating Samsung’s Gear

BitDepth#933 for April 22

Time to wrap up this outing. The Samsung Gear Fit in the field, photographed using the S4. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Time to wrap up this outing. The Samsung Gear Fit in the field, photographed using the S4. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

In creating a smaller Gear device, Samsung has chosen to sacrifice the potential of the new Gear line, which run Tizen, an open source Linux variant. The Gear Fit runs a runtime OS, not Tizen, so there won’t be any cool new developer software coming for it.

It is, at least in this version, a closed box to developers save for any updates and additions that Samsung chooses to push into it.

That’s a shame, because it puts the development of the device squarely on Samsung and cuts off inventive third party developers of hardware and software.

As a rather pointed for instance, let me point out that I’d love to take the Gear Fit along for some work in the pool, but it isn’t designed for sustained immersion, just the usual splash and sweat proofing you’d expect in a watch designed for active use. And there’s no software supporting lap counting or analysis anyway.

I’ve got a US$30 lap counter I wear on my finger that’s more useful for swimming that the Gear Fit ever will be and that’s a shame.

Samsung might want to think more about the possibilities in the Gear Fit’s shape and build an immersible watch band and software to support lap timing and swim session analysis. The folks who need that sort of thing would leap at having computer capabilities on their wrist or forearm.

And while you’re at it, guys? There’s a whole market for streamed audio sent to such a device and made accessible with waterproof earphones. Just sayin’.

So far the device’s watchband has been considered a fashion accessory, a direct and unprepossessing strap offered in three colours.

The Gear fit is sleek enough to easily fit into a thicker, bracelet style band, offering room for extra power, added features, such as memory for storing some songs or audiobooks, oh, and that waterproof protection, complete with the water sealed audio port that I’ve been thinking of.

Sure it would be thicker than the average watchband, but properly designed; it could become quite the utilitarian fashion statement. As a side note, I should point out to Samsung’s designers that I’m on the last two notches of the strap. I’m a big guy, but not that big and certainly there are folks with much thicker wrists that I know of who simply won’t be able to get the device to fit.

The Gear Fit already feels more like a chunky bracelet than a traditional timekeeping device and Samsung should explore design options in that direction.

The Gear Fit’s pedometer uses an accelerometer to measure steps, and it doesn’t seem to do so precisely. I registered more than 4,000 steps in one afternoon without much effort. It also logs steps while driving on bumpy Trini roads, so if you really want to chart your progress during the day, think about pausing it when you aren’t actually walking for a bit.

Support for non-Samsung additions to the host phone is spotty. The media player controls the currently active player, starting and stopping Audible’s player as well as the native MP3 player, but displaying none of the Audible media metadata.

That’s fair enough, I suppose, but I can’t understand why I must use the phone’s SMS messaging software to respond to messages or phone calls. I really prefer HandCent’s messaging product, but the Gear Fit is blind to that software.

The Gear line of smartwatches is in its second iteration, but the Gear Fit feels very much like a version one product.

It’s an effort by the company to create a streamlined and fitness focused product, but it locks out the development community currently working in that niche, stifling interesting ideas that might have emerged when exercise focused minds took a serious look at this sleek, lozenge shaped data logging device that happens to have a watch as part of its feature set.

That’s unfortunate, because it means for the Gear Fit to have a long and useful life, Samsung will have to be doing all of the smart thinking in support of its adoption and success in the fitness community and ultimately, that’s just a bad idea.