How ready are you for #Mobilegeddon ?

Tuesday April 21, 2015 – that’s tomorrow – is a date that will mark a milestone of sorts for any business with a website on the public world wide web.

It’s the day when a company like Legal and General Group will start to see its ranking in Google search results begin to be influenced by how friendly its website is when viewed on a mobile device rather than on a desktop or laptop computer.

Unfortunately for Legal and General, their website is not very friendly at all. Here’s what it looks like on my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone running the Android operating system:

Legal & General website as seen on a smartphone

It’s the regular desktop website formatted for how it would appear when you visit on a desktop computer and interact with a mouse, but squeezed into the small screen of a smartphone where taps and swipes with fingers rule the roost, not clicks with a mouse. And note you’re seeing a screenshot that shows the website considerably larger than actual size on the smartphone screen.

It’s not a good experience on my phone or on an iPhone or iPad; indeed, on any contemporary mobile device, all of which are increasing in use and have already overtaken the use of PCs.

Legal and General is the first company in the FTSE 100 that I picked at random to look at its website on my mobile device. Others, too, that are not yet mobile-friendly – Intercontinental Hotels Group and BHP Billiton, to name just two more.

What will start to happen now to companies like these is that when someone searches for them on a mobile device, the search results will decrease if your website is not mobile friendly.

Google search results have already begun indicating if a particular site is mobile friendly or not, as this screenshot shows for my website:

nevillehobsonmobilefriendly

Google recognises my site as mobile friendly – note the phrase “mobile-friendly” that I’ve highlighted in the screenshot. It has been mobile friendly for well over four years.

Google flagged this deadline in February:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

The bold is my emphasis.

It really is extraordinary that any business with a website hasn’t paid attention to a huge trend that’s been gathering momentum for some years now – the growth of the mobile internet and the eclipse of the desktop.

Some – many – of the FTSE 100 are ready for mobile. The first company I found that is, is Antofagasta, a Chile-based copper mining company which also has the “mobile-friendly” label against its name in a Google mobile search.

Antofagasta mobile-friendly website

It’s not too late to get your website seen as mobile-friendly by Google when anyone searches for you on a mobile device. Google has free tools you can use, starting with its Mobile-Friendly Test Tool that will analyse your site and tell you in some detail whether it’s mobile-friendly or not. If not, it will give you useful insights and guidance on what to do about it.

If your website runs any recent version of the WordPress content management system, you have the opportunity to get your site mobile friendly very quickly via responsive design themes readily available for the platform, many available at no cost.

While the deadline is tomorrow, it doesn’t mean the sky will suddenly and immediately fall in when someone finds your mobile-unfriendly website in a Google mobile search. But it looks quite clear that Google will penalize you over time, so making your website mobile-friendly just seems like good sense.

You can avoid #Mobilegeddon!

Useful reading:

Apple Watch: How desirable and disruptive will it be?

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

For the past six months, I’ve been wearing a smartwatch, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo you see pictured here.

As I have a number of Samsung mobile devices, this smartwatch is ideal for me as it’s geared, so to speak, to work with a wide range of Samsung smartphones including all the ones I have. Currently it’s paired with my Galaxy S4.

The Gear 2 Neo does everything I expect a device like this to do as I mentioned in my initial review of its features and functionality last November. Things like:

  • Shows me the current time.
  • Gives me content on things I’m interested in, such as meeting reminders, updates from social networks (I’ve set it to show me updates from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ at the moment), instant message texts, WhatsApp messages, emails from various email accounts. Note that social network updates, etc, are the actual messages not just notifications of them.
  • Incoming phone calls which I can answer on the Gear 2 Neo if I wish (a surreal experience when at the supermarket checkout), and notification  of missed calls.
  • Contacts list and a dialler to make outgoing phone calls from the watch via Bluetooth connection to my phone.

It also offers health-related apps – pedometer, heart rate measurement, how many hours I sleep – plus others like a voice-recording app for notes, S Voice (an “Ok Google”-like app to ask questions), a music player for music I can store on the watch or stream from the phone (or from the net via the phone), stopwatch, weather reports, and more.

Plus there are myriad ways you can customize the device, from its look and feel to adding features and functions with apps via the Gear Manager app on your phone.

The bulleted list above describes the features and functions I currently value most. So health-related apps aren’t of much interest to me as they are pretty rudimentary: I’m sure that devices like Fitbit or Jawbone that focus specifically on such features are much better as that’s precisely what they do.

I’m also experimenting with apps on the phone that deliver breaking news topics to the watch that alert me of that breaking news, and which I can read on the watch. My current app for that is News Republic; it’s not bad.

And yet.

I want more than all this in a smartwatch. I want to see the word smart mean a great deal more.

I don’t care what shape the device is – square, round, whatever – as long as it looks good (a highly-subjective way of regarding it) and delivers the features and functionality that I want that helps make my life better organized, easier, more productive, fun, etc.

In reality, I’m not really sure exactly what more I want until you, Mr Device Manufacturer, show me what there is that I may want. It could be cool apps. Or maybe – and perhaps more likelier – it could be a really cool device that runs cool apps that do things in really cool or new and interesting ways, far more than just showing me the time, how many steps I’ve walked today and notifications from my smartphone.

Perhaps my current watch, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, represents the peak of expectations from this type and generation of device and its capabilities at the moment. Maybe the coolness of it right now is as much as I’ll ever expect.

But I see nothing else out there at the moment, from any manufacturer on any platform, that lets me believe there’s a better mousetrap to consider.

Then, of course, there’s Apple Watch that’s due in April and about which Apple will be talking at an event in San Francisco at 10am Pacific time (5pm GMT) today, Monday March 9.

If I were looking at what I read about Apple Watch at the moment and consider where all that reporting and narrative would fit on any Gartner Hype Cycle, it would unquestionably be approaching the peak of inflated expectations.

"Gartner Hype Cycle" by Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

And yet.

I think today’s event – with expectations that are undoubtedly huge and possibly inflated – will include some eye-openers for anyone who a) has any current brand of smartwatch, b) has a menu of things they’d like to see in a smartwatch that they currently don’t see, and c) is wondering how a smartwatch is going to play a role in business communication and in the workplace.

Much of what I see people saying about Apple Watch in recent weeks has focused on features and functionality of the device itself. In the absence of any word from Apple on such topics – and there isn’t any – it’s all so much speculation and opinion until that event at 5pm GMT today.

Some of it, though, is informed opinion, worth paying attention to and setting some worthwhile expectations.

For instance:

Ars Technica, March 5: What to expect when we “spring forward” with Apple on March 9:

[…] What we’re likely to get on Monday is an actual launch date, more specific pricing information for all three versions of the product and their bands, and some kind of showcase of third-party apps. At iPhone and iPad launches, Apple usually has at least one or two devs come on stage to walk the audience through a demo that shows what the new hardware is capable of. iOS still enjoys the widest and deepest third-party support of any mobile platform, so we’d expect third-party support to be a major selling point for the Apple Watch as well.

WIRED, March 6 – What to Expect from the Apple Watch Event Monday:

[…] We should hear about clever functionality, like how the the Apple Watch can unlock your hotel room and your car. Apple execs will likely show off myriad health-tracking features, as well as the “Power Reserve” mode that strips the device’s functionality down to being just a watch—and might save you from having to charge it twice a day. Tim Cook will probably show eagerness about using it to buy food at Panera, because Tim Cook apparently loves using Apple Pay to buy food at Panera.

9to5 Mac, March 6: Sources offer hands-on Apple Watch details: battery life, unannounced features, and more:

[…] The Apple Watch’s battery life has concerned many prospective customers, as Apple said only that the Watch will need to be charged nightly. Earlier this year, we reported that Apple’s development targets for Apple Watch battery life were 2.5-4 hours for heavy app usage, versus 19 hours per day of combined usage between light app access, notifications, and Glances. Sources who have handled the Apple Watch tell us that Apple has improved the device’s battery life, noting that the final Apple Watch should be able to handle 5 hours of fairly heavy application usage, and it and won’t run out of battery during a typical day of mixed active and passive use. However, the source says that the device will still need to be charged nightly, as it will definitely not last through a second full day.

And so forth.

And yet.

I want to hear about something really interesting that let’s me do something equally interesting or new. For instance:

TechCrunch, March 6: The Apple Watch Is Time, Saved:

[…] People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck. One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

Nieman Journalism Lab, March 5: The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists:

[…] While checking your phone is still not acceptable in all settings, it still beats the palpable sense of impatience associated with raising your wrist. Checking your smartwatch in company is going to require a new set of social norms to become natural and commonplace. Confusing what’s essentially a miniaturised smartphone with a conventional timepiece is an awkward behavior partially caused by these early smartwatches’ skeuomorphism, the design tendency to create technologies that mimic analog or real-world products in order to make themselves easier for users to understand. Eventually though, one imagines that, as Apple has done before, the idea of a watch as a reference point for these devices will grow less and less relevant.

Distinct behaviour shifts.

And this:

Financial Times, March 6: Apple tests luxury appeal with gold watch:

[…] Apple Watch is the first new product category to emerge from the company since Jobs’ death in 2011. Its ambitious pricing and luxury styling shows how Mr Cook and his design chief, Sir Jonathan Ive, hope Apple can transcend Silicon Valley to enter the more prestigious and lucrative worlds of fashion and jewellery. “I do see that the Watch is a move away from what is traditionally understood as consumer electronics,” Sir Jonathan said at a conference last year. “Apple has always been about ‘affordable luxury': at the higher end of the price range and with a premium feel, but it’s always been within reach of the ordinary consumer,” says Jan Dawson, technology analyst at Jackdaw Research. “This is the first time that Apple has moved into straightforward luxury.”

Bloomberg, March 6: Apple’s Secret Lab Lets Facebook [plus BMW, Starwood Hotels and others] Fine-Tune Apps Before the Watch’s Debut:

[…] As Apple’s first new device since the iPad in 2010, the stakes are high for Apple Watch, and the sophistication of the apps available is critical in wooing buyers. Just as the App Store has been a key reason for the iPhone’s success, tools for Apple Watch will help determine how customers use the gadget and whether it will be a sales hit. The watch must be paired with an iPhone to fully work, and anything less than seamless integration may alienate potential customers. […] Optimism over Apple’s new products, including the watch, has helped send the company’s shares to record highs in recent weeks. Sales of the new device in the first fiscal year may reach almost 14 million, according to the average estimates of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Researcher Strategy Analytics projects Apple will take 55 percent of global smartwatch sales this year, when total shipments may reach 28.1 million units, up from 4.6 million in 2014.

Re/code, March 6: Apple Watch: What to Look For at Monday’s Event:

[…] Apple’s greatest challenge may not be outselling competitors in the wearable space – the first generation of Android smartwatches have gotten off to a sluggish start – but rather, convincing consumers to buy. […] Industry analysts and Wall Street investors are bullish on the watch, and Apple’s ability to energize a nascent consumer category. The company has done it before with the 2010 introduction of the iPad, which ignited the sleepy tablet business.

The Guardian/Observer, March 8: Crunch time: how the Apple Watch could create a $1tn company:

[…] Despite the pundits, on Wall Street and in the industry it is hard to find anyone to agree that the watch could flop. James McQuivey of Forrester Research said last week that “20 million people in the US alone are inclined to buy something new from Apple, giving Apple an easy shot at converting 10 million people to buy one between the US and international markets. We stand by our initial assessment that 10m units sold by year-end is likely.” McQuivey sounds like a pessimist compared to Huberty, who forecasts 30m, and Robert Leitao of Braeburn Group, who suggests 40m by the end of the year. The most pessimistic is Gene Munster, a stock analyst at Piper Jaffray, who reckons 8m.  The lowest of those numbers would dwarf the existing smartwatch market, where the biggest player, Pebble, has shipped just over 1m units in two years, and devices using Google’s “Android Wear” from companies including Samsung, Motorola and LG shipped just 720,000 in 2014. In all, 6.8m smartwatches shipped last year, according to research company Smartwatch Group, at an average price of $189, creating a market worth $1.3bn.

With so much opinion floating around, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to really pay attention to and what to largely ignore.

Whatever we hear from Apple today, I think it will be news that will mark the beginning of the second stage in the development of the smartwatches segment of the wearable technology industry.

Apple Watch

It could also be as disruptive to the watch industry – all watches not only luxury brands – as the launch of the iPod was to the music industry just after the turn of the century, as the launch of the iPhone was to the mobile phone business barely half a decade later, and – as some media reports point out – the launch of the iPad was to the tablet market just five years ago.

And finally, if you compare the Apple Watch image above with the photo of the Gear 2 Neo at the top of this post, you might notice how similar the watch faces look on both devices. That’s because the one on the Gear 2 Neo is actually the Apple Watch Watchface created by Jehezkiel Eugene S and available to buy in Samsung’s Gear Apps Store. It’s the best-looking watch face I’ve seen to customize my Gear 2 Neo.

Apple Watch – already making a visual impact.

  • If you want to watch the Apple event online as it happens, you can as Apple will be live-streaming the event. However, you will need Apple devices running Apple OSes to do that (ie, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV) and a lot of patience as you compete with thousands of other for the bandwidth. Alternatives will be mirror videostreams that others may set up, Apple’s live blog and many other live blogs, eg, TechCrunch (one of the best at events like these).

Here’s the proof, @EE

I bought a new data SIM card from mobile operator EE a few days ago, to use in my Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Windows Ultrabook. With the deal came an Alcatel One Touch Pop 7S Android tablet. Nice! It’s a good deal.

I’d like to use that tablet but first it needs charging. And it won’t.

When I plug it in to the mains power using the supplied charger, it shows the battery on-screen as is common with Android devices. But then it switches to show a white triangle with an exclamation mark in the middle. And then it goes blank. That’s all it does. And the battery always shows 2% charged.

I explained all this in a call to EE’s 150 support service yesterday evening. They wanted me to try it in different chargers and charge it for at least 15 minutes each time to see if the problem is the device or the charger or the cable.

So I’ve done that with these charging methods:

  • Connected the charger and cable that came with the Alcatel device.
  • Connected the charger and cable from a Galaxy S3.
  • Connected the charger and cable from a Galaxy S4.
  • USB cable to PC.

Same result each time:

  1. Battery showing 2%
  2. Triangle with exclamation mark
  3. Blank screen

The EE support person promised to call me back 20 minutes or so after we spoke, once I’d done a test. She didn’t.

So I made the video you see above to show what happens. And I left the device on charge overnight plugged in to the S3 charger. Same result.

It looks pretty conclusive to me, EE, that the device is faulty.

May I have one that works, please?

[Update Jan 15] On Tuesday, I finally got a replacement tablet that works, but no thanks to any pro-action from EE. After trying twice more last week to talk to someone at EE’s 150 support service – patience running thin after queuing for 10 minutes each time – I visited the EE store in Hammersmith, west London, on a trip into London, the place where I’d bought the SIM card/tablet deal a week earlier.

A quick test by a store employee confirmed the fault in the device and a replacement was swiftly agreed. We tested the replacement device – just to be sure! – and it worked perfectly, charging the battery as it should do. And so I left the EE store with a working Alcatel OneTouch Pop 7s Android tablet.

As I mentioned earlier, the data SIM card I have works a treat, and I have no issues at all with the service EE provides: a means for me to get online via their 4G cellular network. I anticipate continuing to use EE’s network well into the future (well, depending perhaps on what happens if BT does acquire EE), just as I have been with their devices I’ve been using as part of the EE ambassador programme that Andrew Grill set up with them in 2012.

What I genuinely hope, though, is that I never have need to call EE’s 150 support call centre number again. A nightmare experience. I wonder why most mobile operators have such awful customer support services via the phone, Vodafone being another one.

A subject for another post, another day.

Making a QR code useful isn’t rocket science

Scan this QR code for more information...A technology that’s often subject to much criticism is QR codes, those square symbols that enable a barcode scanning app on your smartphone to interpret the data they contain and deliver information to you when you scan them

Much of the criticism is about how QR codes are presented by those who create them, often in ways that are simply lame or even mind boggling.

But when you see a great example of how a QR code is being used to convey useful information on a practical level, that’s when you see how genuinely useful they can be in terms of the information they enable you to access or the experiences they enable you to enjoy, or both.

I’ve written about QR codes quite a bit in this blog, highlighting the good and the not so good. Here’s another example, definitely for the ‘good’ list.

I spotted this QR code one evening recently as a key element of a sign on a bus stop in Wokingham, the town in southeast England where I live.

Next bus

Quite simple – scan the QR code to get information on when buses are due to arrive at that particular bus stop.

So you scan the code with your phone, and get a result like this:

nextbus

It tells me quite clearly when I can expect the next bus. If I were waiting for a bus at that stop, perhaps just arriving there, I’d find that useful. As the sign shows, I have other options to get information. There’s also the real-time display on the bus stop itself, bringing in bus timetable information by wifi to display.

Plenty of choices.

While this is a simple example, it does demonstrate how to add a method of access to information that will appeal to some people, some bus travellers in this case. Not everyone will be interested or even have a smartphone with them. But if you are and you do, then this is a good example of offering something useful to your audience that will appeal to some of them, and that requires little effort (or real cost) to implement.

Crucially, it is available to the consumer at no cost other than any charges related to data use via their carrier’s cellular or wifi network.

It reminds me in a small way of the Monmouthpedia experiment a few years ago – access via QR codes to useful information in a town where you could get a great network connection (and, so, access to the content) that will appeal to some people, not necessarily all of them.

monmouthpediaqrshirehall.jpg

The biggest barrier that stands in the way of wider acceptance and use of QR codes is the simple fact that every mobile phone with a camera needs a barcode scanning app in order to make use of QR codes. Currently, no phone from any UK carrier comes with such an app already installed – you have to find one in an app store, download it and install it.

As soon as such apps come with a phone – perhaps as part of the core apps, or the extra software mobile operators typically install – we’ll all be ready. Then it’s up to the advertisers, marketers and communicators to attract our attention, interest, desire and action with the application of something imaginative and compelling.

Something that will make me scan your code. Because I can.

Mobile can grow, but publishers are losing out on revenue

A guest post by Simon Birkenhead, CEO of Axonix, an advertising technology company backed by Telefonica and Blackstone.

Location-based mobile adFacebook recently announced its Q3 results and, for many in the industry, the most headline-grabbing statistic was that mobile ads now make up an incredible 66% of the social network’s total advertising revenue.

And yet, I reacted to the announcement with little surprise.

After all, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that mobile advertising is growing at a remarkable rate – especially when you consider there are currently more data connections in the UK than there are people. In August this year, mobile internet usage in the UK overtook desktop, meaning a majority of website visits now come from tablets and smartphones.

In the first half of 2014, mobile advertising in the UK exceeded £700 million – that’s around 20% of all digital ad spend and a whopping 68% growth over 2013. That’s more than radio and cinema advertising combined, and is fast approaching the scale of outdoor advertising.

However, despite this explosive growth of mobile advertising, I believe brands, publishers and consumers are still not being well served by mobile ads, and this is preventing mobile advertising from growing even faster.

Facebook, it seems, has done a great job at figuring out how to best present ads within their users’ mobile newsfeeds. However, most publishers I speak with say they invest a tiny fraction of their time thinking about how to optimise their own users’ mobile ad experiences. This is despite some publishers admitting they now see close to 50% of their traffic from mobile devices.

Facebook mobile ads

App developers also continue to stick rigidly to the tiny banner ad rather than exploring more engaging, and valuable, alternatives such as video and full-screen interstitials. Throw in the fact that mobile ads are often poorly targeted and it is no wonder brands struggle to find success through mobile.

So how to get it right? The winners will ultimately be those publishers who can provide a platform where brands can run engaging mobile ads that reach the right person with a super relevant message at the right time. On mobile this is even more critical, and even more difficult to achieve, because of the very mobility inherent in mobile device.

The heavily-touted silver bullet to this challenge – and one of the buzzwords of 2014 throughout all forms of advertising, not just mobile – is programmatic.

Programmatic advertising through ‘ad exchanges’ brings the ability to buy and sell advertising in an automated fashion in real-time, one ad impression at a time.

And it’s struck a real chord.

Publishers and brands alike are embracing programmatic advertising as the primary way business should be conducted. It enables real-time audience targeting at scale, a benefit that’s even more relevant for mobile because of its uniquely personal characteristics. Better targeting means improved ad relevancy, increasing the value for both consumers and advertisers, and delivering a higher price for publishers’ media space.

There are also significant cost efficiencies generated by outsourcing most of the heavy lifting to computer algorithms and reducing the dependency on expensive media buying/sales teams. Unlike the ‘secret sauce’ of ad networks, ad exchanges like Axonix can provide full transparency to both buyer and seller of the media space.

Such immense mobile growth in such a short space of time was always going to bring both challenges and opportunities for app developers and publishers. So now is the time to get equipped with the facts and best practices to capitalise on the opportunities presented by programmatic mobile advertising.

Whether an app or mobile content is free, freemium or paid-for, monetization of mobile ad space through ad exchanges allows publishers to optimise ad revenues whilst slashing costs.

Just as it is inevitable that consumers’ usage of mobile devices will continue to grow, so it is inevitable that marketing budgets will continue to follow those consumer eyeballs.

So get ahead of this disruption. Just as Facebook has rebuilt its entire ad business around mobile, it will be those publishers and app developers that harness the programmatic opportunity and offer a platform for more intelligent mobile advertising who will find themselves in the best stead to capture these budgets in the future.

Simon BirkenheadSimon Birkenhead is CEO of Axonix, a leading mobile ad exchange that helps mobile publishers to maximize their ad revenues. He has 20 years experience in digital marketing, mobile advertising and business management, the majority of which has been within high tech companies at the cutting edge of their industries.

He has launched three digital advertising start-ups, including Axonix, and was the first hire into Google’s Global Agencies Team in 2008, establishing this as the benchmark sales team for engagement at global exec level with the Big 6 advertising agency groups.

Simon is a mentor and Board advisor to a number of new technology companies and is a regular speaker at industry conferences, including Mobile World Congress, Festival of Media and Ad:Tech.

(Starbucks image: via Forbes; Facebook ads image: Facebook via Wired)

Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch – some initial impressions

Samsung Gear 2 Neo home screenLast month, I bought a Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch. It’s been on my wrist every day over the past few weeks, replacing my usual traditional watch that tells the time and shows me the date.

Of course, a digital smartwatch can do a lot more than just that, one of the reasons why people buy them.

You want to check your heartbeat? Count how many steps you take walking, or running or hiking? Track your sleeping time? The Gear 2 Neo does all of that and more. I’d argue, though, that dedicated fitness devices such as a Fitbit or Jawbone Up do that much better and in greater depth – that’s what they do.

So if such health-focused activity-tracking uses are of primary importance to you, a smartwatch like the Gear 2 wouldn’t be your best choice.

But if you want to do things such as receive notifications of messages from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Yammer and more; receive texts from your contacts on WhatsApp, Hangouts or via standard SMS; get reminders from your calendar on upcoming appointments; read email from your Gmail or corporate email accounts; or receive (and make) phone calls from your wrist, then a Gear 2 Neo might be right up your street.

And, as I use a Samsung smartphone – a Galaxy S4 at the moment – the fact that this smartwatch is geared  to work seamlessly with 17 supported Samsung smartphone models including the S4 was a big selling point.

So that’s what I want today from a smartwatch.

All of the above was the primary reason why I went for a Gear 2 Neo rather than any other comparable smartwatch currently on the market, many of which will also do some or all these things with other brands of smartphones: iPhones as well as Android-based devices.

In my view, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo is at the most favourable price point for what you get with your device, better than anything comparable I looked at.

You use a Gear 2 Neo in conjunction with your Samsung smartphone and the Gear Manager app you install on your phone. The first thing you do is pair your two devices via Bluetooth, and you’re set – from that point on you’ll get all the notifications you want on your Neo, from any of your installed apps, once you’ve set them up with the Gear Manager on your smartphone.

Samsung Gear ManagerManage Notifications

As long as your two devices are within range of each other, you won’t need to whip out your phone just to see a notification. It’s a very handy feature, possibly more so than you first realize.

One thing I find really appealing are the extensive ways in which you can customize your Gear 2 Neo, from the obvious and visual (wallpapers or coloured backgrounds) to the useful (watch styles and faces), and a great deal more, from how you’re notified and by which apps, to privacy locking and finding your Neo using your smartphone.

WallpapersClocks

I’ve experimented a bit with the aesthetics! At the moment, my Neo screen has a November the fifth effect as the wallpaper. I expect to change that in the next week or so, once I’ve found a good alternative (a good resource for Gear 2 wallpapers is Tizen Experts website).

I’m only scratching the surface of the Gear 2 Neo at the moment, not yet having explored in depth the apps that come with the device – some of which are tuned to Samsung smartphones, eg, S Voice and Voice Memo – never mind what’s in the Samsung App Store. And there is a surprisingly large quantity of apps in that store.

All that’s yet to come. Meanwhile, a handful of quick impressions:

  • Battery life is excellent in my experience, at least two days between charges, sometimes three days. Much depends on how you use it, of course, but this is my experience by and large. Only once did I use up all the juice in one day when I was doing a huge amount with the device including making and receiving quite a few phone calls and playing around with the various screens and options. But for typical usage, I’d say you can expect about two days on a single battery charge.
  • The way you charge the battery is via a little clip-on charge pack that fits on the back of the device. It’s small and very light = very easy to lose; I’m taking special note of where I put it. You can’t just plug your device in to a power source as you do with your smartphone – the only way to connect a USB cable is via the clip-on pack, and it’s the only way to charge your Neo.
  • The huge battery hit is on your paired smartphone because of the Bluetooth connectivity. In a typical day, I need to charge the phone during the day and again at the end of the day (where, usually, it’s only once at the end of the day when I charge it). Much depends on what you use your smartphone for and how you use it, as well as how long or how frequently you connect to your Neo via Bluetooth. Being permanently connected, with Bluetooth running all the time, is a nice convenience but maybe not really essential. So short battery life isn’t a device issue, it’s a battery issue – and extending battery life is undoubtedly one of the next key development frontiers to cross with battery technologies for mobile and wearable devices.
  • Usability as a device paired with a Samsung smartphone is excellent where the two devices work hand in glove, pretty seamlessly from my experience so far. If you think about how you use a smartphone where some of your time is spent just looking at it to see notifications, with limited interactions, then a smartwatch surely is a more convenient way to do that especially in some situations, eg, in a meeting, on a bus or train, etc, where a gentle vibration alerts you that a notification is coming, and you can give a discreet glance at your wrist.
  • The Gear 2 range including the Neo run the Tizen operating system, not Android. From my experience, that’s not an issue at all as Linux-based Tizen is actively supported by many mainstream manufacturers (including Samsung) and has a growing developer environment with more apps coming all the time, with plenty of incentives for developers.

The smartwatch market is getting most interesting now. Samsung just launched its Gear S in the US, an advanced-level smartwatch and health/fitness tracker with built-in cellular communications functionality – no paired smartphone required; Apple’s much-anticipated Apple Watch is reportedly coming in Spring 2015; more devices within Google’s Android Wear framework are coming soon; and news keeps popping up of more brands releasing their own smartwatches.

There are also developments with useful things you can do with your smartwatch. For instance, I look forward to flying with an airline where I can show my boarding pass on my Gear 2 Neo, as you can do with Iberia – far easier than grappling with a bit of paper or a smartphone along with all your hand baggage when you board.

And in the workplace, think how useful it would be to get notifications of events from your ERP system, such as the working proof of concept from enterprise software vendor IFS (a client) that they developed to deliver notifications from their IFS Applications software to the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

This is just the start. So I’m happy to be in a good place to learn right now with a Gear 2 Neo.