Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Smartwatch Isn’t Exactly a Disaster, but It’s Sure Not a Hit Either

Shipped or sold, 800K units isn't so hot for Samsung's smartwatch.

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Samsung really doesn’t want you to think that its Galaxy Gear smartwatch is a flop.

Shortly after BusinessKorea reported that Samsung has only moved 50,000 Gear units to date, Samsung tried to set the record straight, telling Reuters that sales have in fact hit 800,000 units within two months.

That’s a pretty big discrepancy. But no matter which figure is closer to the mark, the reality is that Samsung’s early bet on wearable tech hasn’t paid off.

First, let’s get to the bottom of those numbers. It’s almost certain that BusinessKorea’s 50,000 figure only refers to South Korean sales. The first paragraph of the story mentions “domestic customers,” and a follow-up report by Yonhap reiterates that 50,000 units were sold in South Korea.

But Samsung’s 800,000 figure may be disingenuous. As many observers have pointed out already, the number likely refers to retail shipments, not sales to users.

History shows that it’s easy to ship a large-sounding number of devices into retail without actually getting the product into users’ hands. Samsung, for example, shipped 2 million units of its original Galaxy Tab in 2010, but the product was quickly forgotten and Samsung never revealed actual sales figures. That same year, Microsoft boasted about shipping 2 million Windows Phones, yet that didn’t translate to significant market share for the operating system, which three years later remains in a distant third place behind Android and iOS.

Even if we make the generous assumption that most of those Galaxy Gear smartwatches have been sold to users–and we ignore the whispers of high return rates–800,000 units is just not that impressive. Samsung has marketed the heck out of this device, with flashy advertisements on national television, yet it hasn’t cracked the million-sales mark that was so easily reached by groundbreaking products like Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

Meanwhile, a startup called Pebble had sold (to real people, not retailers) 275,000 units of its eponymous smartwatch as of July. And that was just during the pre-order period. How much do you want to bet that the Pebble is more widely owned and used than the poorly-reviewed Galaxy Gear?

The reality is that both products are niche devices, and the smartwatch in general won’t have mainstream appeal without major advancements in hardware and software. Maybe that’s okay for a startup like Pebble, but it’s a problem for a huge company like Samsung. The Galaxy Gear’s marketing campaign is built on the idea that we’ve been dreaming of this smartwatch for decades. It doesn’t look good if no one in the real world is interested.