Will Samsung ever get serious about challenging Apple in the smartwatch market?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Samsung's glamorous February 11 Unpacked event in San Francisco had everything. A "mainstream" high-end handset with standard 5G connectivity for every (extravagant) budget ranging from $1,000 to $1,400, a deeply flawed but decidedly more refined foldable phone sporting an eye-catching design perfectly blending modernity with a long-lost tradition, a somewhat surprising permanent price cut for a family of respectable 2019 flagships, and even a sleek new pair of true wireless earbuds raising the battery life bar to previously unimaginable heights.

The only thing missing was an upgraded Android tablet, although that might simply be because US carriers don't expect 5G-enabled slates to generate a lot of consumer interest in the near future. Wait a minute, what about smartwatches? Admit it, you didn't give the fast-growing device category much thought leading up to the Galaxy S20 and Z Flip launch event, and that's not just because there was so little movement on the rumor front these last few months.

The main problem is Samsung still doesn't think it can take on Apple at the top of this thriving market. Not really, and until the world's largest smartphone vendor will start to believe there's a path to number one for it in the global smartwatch landscape, consumers are unlikely to take the Galaxy Watch roster seriously.

Was it too early for a Galaxy Watch Active 3?

It's virtually impossible to answer that question because it sometimes feels like Samsung isn't thinking ahead very much when it comes to its smartwatch release schedule and especially branding "strategy." It's almost like there's no such strategy at all, and the company decides to wing it once or twice a year, throwing a bunch of confusing names and design revisions against a wall to see if anything sticks.

Curiously enough, the relatively affordable Galaxy Watch Active seemed to stick, earning solid reviews despite ditching the rotating bezel that so many hardcore Samsung fans claimed to love unconditionally. A second-gen Galaxy Watch Active then came out surprisingly quickly, addressing an entirely different target audience with an increased focus on style and a richer list of features.

That made us wonder whether Samsung would settle on a release schedule with two new models a year, but that doesn't appear to be the case, which begs another obvious question. Is the Galaxy Watch Active 3 next in line at all, and if so, should we expect a sportier flavor with a lower price point a la the original Watch Active or a more feature-packed rival to the Apple Watch in the vein of the Watch Active 2? 

It's not too late for a Galaxy Watch 2

No, releasing a Galaxy Watch 2 when many people are expecting a Galaxy Watch Active 3 doesn't make a lot of sense. But neither did the Galaxy Watch Active on the heels of the original Galaxy Watch a year ago, let alone the Gear Sport anomaly from back in 2017.


What I'm trying to say is, if Samsung isn't done experimenting with various different designs and UI navigation methods, zigzagging between device names, target audiences, and price brackets, the company may as well go back to roll out a proper sequel to 2018's Galaxy Watch. 

I'm not saying that was a perfect smartwatch (far from it, actually), but while the Galaxy Watch Active 2 looks okay, the Galaxy Watch was hands down the prettiest Apple Watch alternative ever manufactured by a major tech company (so, no, I'm not including luxury Montblanc or Louis Vuitton models in this comparison).

The Galaxy Watch undeniably had the powerful internals to match its premium looks, so even though the price felt a little prohibitive for some people, that's the direction Samsung should be headed in right now. Otherwise, we might have to wait several more years before someone can provide real high-end competition for Apple.

Don't bring a(nother) knife to a gunfight

While it feels pretty much impossible to beat Apple at its own smartwatch game, limiting the appeal of a new wearable device by removing and skipping key features to hit a reasonable price point will only make it more difficult for Samsung to become a real contender in the long run. The budget-friendly Galaxy Watch Active may have boosted the company's sales numbers, helping it surpass Fitbit, but now it's time to go after the top dog and making compromises will not cut it.

The smartwatch market has become mature enough to support more than one brand focused on providing the best user experience and greatest features regardless of the retail costs, and that second company can be Samsung. 

If you think about it, prolonging the development of the Galaxy Watch 2 (or Watch Active 3) may have actually been the right call, giving Samsung more time to improve on its solid previous efforts in meaningful ways so we can finally be at peace recommending a truly great Apple Watch alternative compatible with both iPhones and Android handsets.

Unfortunately, if recent rumors prove accurate, we might not get the Galaxy Watch 2 of our dreams alongside the Galaxy Note 20 either. While Samsung is reportedly preparing a decent memory upgrade, the battery capacity speculation is outright disheartening. Of course, everything else remains under wraps, but this is not an encouraging start, suggesting the company could be planning a modest iterative update of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 rather than an unapologetic, no-holds-barred Galaxy Watch follow-up capable of going head to head against the Apple Watch Series 6 in terms of raw power, software support, and overall user experience.

Come on, Samsung, you're better than that, and the state-of-the-art Galaxy S20 Ultra proves it. In fact, here's an idea - why not lose the digits and the confusing Sport or Active monikers entirely to roll out a Galaxy Watch Ultra this August? Don't you think that would send shivers down Tim Cook's spine?


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