Yesterday, Samsung announced the launch of their new Galaxy Gear “smartwatch.” By now, you can read a multitude of reviews about this device. In general, they praise features like the Gear’s 1.9-megapixel camera (something neither the Pebble or the SONY SmartWatch has) and the 70 native apps that will be available at launch. However, many critique the Gear’s limited compatibility (at launch it will only pair with Galaxy devices running Version 4.3 of Android Jelly Bean). This conflict of better-than-market features with limited market applicability begs an important question: does the Galaxy Gear rise to the threshold of a Minimum Viable Product (“MVP”) or is it only a niche accessory?
Why Launch Now?
In his post “What Now? Product Release” Peter Levine (of Andreessen Horowitz) defines an MVP as a product that satisfies the 3-5 most compelling customer needs with highest attention to quality.
MVPs are not just for startups; they are essential to the successful launch of any disruptive innovation. The digital music players market illustrates this powerfully. For nearly a decade, many leading (large-cap) tech companies launched digital music players. However, none of these met the threshold of minimum viable product (easy to download music or copy over CDs, easy to play, work with the majority of PCs) until Apple launched combination of the iPod with iTunes (for Mac and Windows). From here, the rest is well-known history. Clearly, a successful MVP can open up a highly valuable product category for a company with the size and smartphone market share of Samsung’s.
By launching the Gear ahead of it major competitors (i.e., “Apple”), Samsung has attempted to seize several first-mover advantages, namely early market leadership and mainstream definition of a new product category. It has also seeded expansion of a series of interconnected portable computing devices and established platform from which it can obtain data on everything from usage patterns to marginal cost.
But is the Galaxy Gear Viable?
However, the Gear’s first-mover advantages are only useful if it is a viable product. The Gear does appear to have the required level of Quality (as any user of Galaxy S3 or Note can tell you). But does it satisfy the most essential consumer needs?
- Can it serve as a watch? Yes—both analog or digital
- Can it serve it run apps like a smartphone? Yes—apps built on the most widely used OS
- Can it keep me connected like my smartphone? Only if you have a compatible Galaxy device (the Galaxy Note 3 pre-sales only begin today; US retail price is approximate $700) AND this device is within 1.5 meters
- Can it be bought and used by most people? No. Only a small number of people can buy and use the Gear (unless they want to buy another more expensive device alongside it)
While the Gear technically meets the essential consumer needs, it does so with extreme limitations. The Gear is not the ultra-convenient smartwatch that finally lets me take my smartphone out of my pocket in evening (or lets me stop worrying if I am missing key alerts while I am working out). Instead, in its current form, it is an ultra-niche accessory.
While the Gear is not MVP, it is only Samsung’s first mainstream foray into connected wearable computing. I—like many others—would love a standalone water-resistant watch that is part connected smartphone, part fitness band, part MP3 player, and looks nice. It would much more convenient to use outside of business hours—especially while our shopping or working out at the gym. Hopefully, we will see this true smartwatch MVP in the Gear II. If not, we will likely see it from somebody else over the next 12 months.