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Samsung Galaxy Watch Highlights the Value of Accessibility Innovation

Samsung Galaxy Watch Highlights the Value of Accessibility Innovation

The News: Following International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, Samsung highlighted its recent UI 5 update to the Galaxy Watch. Dubbed Universal Gestures, the enhanced accessibility feature is designed to give users more intuitive, touch-free control over their Galaxy Watch through simple and intuitive movements. The full press release is available in Samsung’s US newsroom.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Highlights the Value of Accessibility Innovation

Analyst Take: Universal Gestures offers users a hands-free alternative to operate Samsung’s Galaxy Watch with four distinct gestures: making a fist (once or twice) and pinching (once or twice).

Once a user enables Universal Gestures, which takes only a few taps, the Galaxy Watch will indicate the mode as active with a customizable colored outline. Once activated, a series of gestures will direct the watch to perform specific actions: make a fist, make a fist twice, pinch, and double pinch:

  • Making a fist gesture twice opens an Action menu packed with essential options such as opening the apps menu, returning to the previous screen, and displaying recent apps. Because the Action menu is dynamic, it always adjusts its content based on the screen that was open when the user activated it.
  • Making a pinch gesture then allows users to navigate from one item to another or go back to the previous item, including scrolling through messages, calendar items, and photos.
  • Making a fist gesture once selects and opens the item the user wants to interact with.

Simple.

With roughly 42.5 million Americans with disabilities, including people with hearing, vision, cognitive, walking, self-care, or independent living difficulties, this type of feature and design thinking makes a lot of sense for Samsung to incorporate into its smart watch. While still basic, it is a great start, and one that I expect will be further enhanced by on-device AI chipsets next year that will be able to combine gestures with voice and other sensor inputs for a fuller, even more well-rounded user experience. Technology innovation is at its best when its UI is intuitive, inclusive, and empowering, and making wearables more usable for everyone is just a reflection of good design thinking by the product team.

The move is also a clever product marketing strategy. As popular as it is, Samsung’s Android watch still lags behind Apple Watch with only about 10% market share to Apple Watch’s fluctuating 22% to 30% in a $44 billion annual market. A market that is currently experiencing healthy growth as smartwatch shipments appear to be regaining momentum a lot faster than PCs, with a nearly 10% year-over-year (YoY) increase in third quarter (Q3) 2023 alone. And while Apple Watch remains Samsung’s primary competitor (and experienced its best quarter yet), a critical threat to Galaxy Watch’s market share growth is resurgent Huawei, which posted a 56% YoY increase in overall shipments in Q3 and 122% growth for its HLOS smartwatches alone.

For this reason, making the Galaxy Watch more accessible to a 42.5 million-strong community of technology users in the US is so critical for Samsung. Making the Android watch more accessible, appealing, and usable for users who might have otherwise missed out on the wearable platform’s health, fitness, and productivity features, is smart business. Samsung cannot just rely on its brand when it comes to wearables. It has to build strong, trusting, passionate user communities in specific market segments, just as Apple has.

I should also point out that the Universal Gestures feature has many other uses even for people with disabilities or accessibility challenges. The features can be extremely helpful in different settings, when using the touchscreen is not an option. As a cyclist, for instance, I can appreciate how being able to access some of the watch’s menus and features while on a casual spin by simply using a few gestures could be extremely valuable. That goes double for cold weather rides, when full-fingered gloves are de rigueur. The value obviously extends to bike commuters, outdoor enthusiasts, tradespeople, and anyone wearing full-fingered gloves.

It is also good to see the Android watch ecosystem finally start to catch up to Apple’s success a bit—a point of frustration for those of us who feel that Android watches, despite having access to solid hardware and IP, have mostly fallen short of their disruptive potential thus far. Apple deserves more aggressive competition, and frankly, so do consumers. And while Universal Gestures is not quite the market differentiator I wish it were because it more or less echoes Apple Watch’s Double-Tap and AssistiveTouch, it does offer features oddly still missing from Google’s Pixel Watch and reflects a significant step in the right direction if Samsung hopes to finally start truly narrowing the gap between Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch. I hope to see exciting additional AI-powered touch-free features build on Samsung’s UI momentum in 2024.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Other insights from The Futurum Group:

Google Pixel Watch 2 Showcases Wear OS 4’s Complete Feature Set

Samsung Galaxy Watch Gets FDA Approval for Heart Rhythm Notifications

Qualcomm Runs the Table at Samsung Unpacked 2023

Author Information

Olivier Blanchard has extensive experience managing product innovation, technology adoption, digital integration, and change management for industry leaders in the B2B, B2C, B2G sectors, and the IT channel. His passion is helping decision-makers and their organizations understand the many risks and opportunities of technology-driven disruption, and leverage innovation to build stronger, better, more competitive companies.  Read Full Bio.

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