The smartwatch race is off and running. Whether consumers care remains to be seen.
Samsung kicked off the competition Wednesday by unveiling the Galaxy Gear at an event in Berlin. The South Korean tech giant said its $299 smartwatch connects with the Galaxy Note III and 2014 edition of the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, both of which will debut in the next few weeks.
Just a few hours later, Qualcomm jumped into the game by announcing the Qualcomm Toq.
The Toq (pronounced "talk") is the chip maker's entry into the market. The Toq also features a touchscreen and displays incoming calls, messages and other alerts. The device's battery is capable of lasting for days, and a special version of the Toq can connect wirelessly with stereo headphones that can be used to listen to music.
The Toq works with devices that run on Android 4.0.3 and above, and it will go on sale this year. No price has been given.
The two heavyweights join start-ups that already have staked out smartwatch territory. These include Pebble, Martian and Cookoo.
And rumors have been swirling that other big tech firms such as Apple, Microsoft and Google have plans to enter the smartwatch market.
What's less clear is how big of a market there is for these gadgets.
In a report issued Wednesday by technology research firm IHS, smartwatch shipments are expected to hit only 268,000 units in 2013. That number should increase dramatically in 2014, to 2.6 million units.
Those kind of numbers aren't likely to have a big effect on any company's bottom line in the short term. And although wearable computing is being hyped as the next frontier, mainstream adoption of such devices is still probably years away, according to the IHS report.
"Based on the features announced today, it appears that Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch is a prototype masquerading as a commercial product — and because of that, it is unlikely to be successful in the market," wrote Ian Fogg, director for mobile and telecommunications at IHS, in the report.
According to a recent study by the Center for the Digital Future, smartwatches may be an especially tough sell to young users who have grown up with time-telling smartphones in their pocket instead of watches around their wrists.
"A lot of the millennial behavior is transitory," said Jeffrey Cole, the center's director. "But as people age, they still are not wearing watches, and we'll begin to find out next month if that behavioral change is transformational."
The center, affiliated with the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has been tracking the same group of people for 13 years. And that annual study has given the think tank long-range insights into changing consumer behavior.
This year, Cole said questions about wearables — computing devices that are worn rather than held — are starting to emerge.
"We're preparing for the invasion onto our body," he said.
The results, which fall in line with other market research surveys, show little interest in devices such as Google Glass, Nike's Fuel band, Fitbit and smartwatches among millennials. About 3% of respondents are using smartwatches, Cole said.
"People right now don't think they want wearables," he said. "People also don't realize what they want, and we believe having the Internet right at our level 24/7 is going to be a compelling proposition."
Times staff writer Paresh Dave contributed to this report.