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Samsung scrambled to finish Galaxy Gear smart watch & beat Apple's rumored 'iWatch' to market

Samsung's recently released Galaxy Gear smart watch may be the product of a rushed development effort spurred on by rumors that Apple was preparing to enter the wearable technology segment in a big way.

The South Korean tech giant's latest smart watch offering debuted in September to no small amount of skepticism from tech observers. The device has since been widely panned in reviews, with critics pointing to its high price point, limited functionality, and poor battery life.

The device's failings may stem from a rushed development process, according to a new report from Cnet. That report paints a picture of a tech conglomerate able to take a device from concept to product in a matter of months, thanks to an authoritative management structure paired with a good deal of vertical supply chain integration.

Contrary to accusations that the company conceived and pushed out a watch device only after rumors emerged that Apple was working on the same, the report holds that Samsung had been working on Gear since 2011. Features of the product came out of consumer surveys conducted to see what customers most disliked about their smartphones.

We put all things together and said let's go for it.
— Samsung executive
Out of those surveys grew Gear aspects such as the in-band camera and the email notification system, and the concept of Gear began to coalesce. Top Samsung executives like CEO J.K. Shin soon threw their weight behind the project, but the company reportedly didn't get serious about building the device until the first quarter of this year, around the time that the Apple iWatch rumors began to heat up.

"We put all things together and said let's just go for it," one Samsung executive told Cnet of the decision to move forward.

Prior to that, the device existed largely in in the form of sketches, with a patent application showing off one possible design. The firm's U.S. arm — charged with marketing and development for one of the most important tech markets — had until then only seen a simple sketch of the smart watch, which was apparently in the design phase until shortly before its release. Samsung considered more than 100 designs before settling on the model it wound up revealing, and many of those working on the device or partnering with Samsung only had access to prototype designs. Most people working on the device had no idea what it would look like until Samsung showed it off in September.

Samsung Watch Patent
Samsung patent for a wrist watch computing device. | Source: Korean Intellectual Property Office.

Aspects such as the screws on the watch face were changed just days before Samsung's IFA keynote in Berlin. Samsung quickly produced new color variants of the device based on the suggestions of CEO Shin, with fast turnaround on such alterations made possible by the company's vertical supply integration.

The hardware design was not the only Gear aspect in flux; Samsung was also repeatedly tweaking the device's software. Gear's user interface color scheme, gesture controls, feature access points, and other items all underwent multiple changes in the weeks leading up to its unveiling. One Samsung executive says that the final release user interface looked completely different just one week before launch, with Samsung initially trying a standard Android-like app icon grid before settling on a tiled interface. The final release user interface looked completely different just one week before launch

The end result — unveiled with a good deal of hype from the South Korean giant — met with a tepid response at best, with reviewers praising some of the device's technical elements but bemoaning its multiple shortcomings. Samsung's smart watch, some said, was unable to to perform any truly "smart" functions.

Meanwhile, its rival Apple is still thought to still be working on its own wearable device. The iPhone maker reportedly has a team of 100 working on the device, which is said to pack a number of biometric sensors. Apple has also recently brought on talent from the worlds of fashion and fitness, possibly to work on its rumored wrist-mounted device.

Aside from possible Apple competition, the Galaxy Gear may have to contend with a wide range of wrist-targeted offerings over the next year. Sony already competes in the segment with a less expensive device that has received better reviews. Google is thought to be working on its own device for release in the near future, as is Microsoft. Chip maker Intel has also hired on talent from Nike and Oakley, possibly with the aim of entering the wearable segment.