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Samsung launches Gear S3 smartwatch amid rumors of a new Apple Watch

Samsung launched the Gear S3 smartwatch on Wednesday as it looked to steal a march on Apple and its heavily-anticipated update of its wearable.

The Gear S3 comes in two versions - the "Frontier" aimed at more active users and the "Classic" which has a more refined feel.

Some of the key specs include:

  • A rotating bezel that allows users to carry out actions such as answering calls
  • It runs Tizen, Samsung's own operating system, which currently has 10,000 apps for the Gear S3 available
  • A number of sensors - accelerometer, gyrometer, barometer and heart rate monitor
  • Three-to-four-day battery life with modes to help conserve power
  • Wireless charging
  • 1.3 inch screen which supports Samsung's "always on display" allowing the watchface to constantly be on rather than lighting up when it's touched or moved

The South Korean electronics giant said it would continue making the previous version of its smartwatch, the Gear S2. While the Gear S3 requires tethering to an Android smartphone to use connected features such as calls, Samsung is also releasing an embedded SIM version in some markets. This would mean users would be able to leave their phone untethered but still make calls, reply to texts and use internet services on their smartwatch.

The Gear S3 will be shipped in the fourth quarter of 2016 but Samsung has yet to release pricing and details of where it will be launched. The unveiling at the IFA technology showcase in Berlin comes as Samsung's U.S. rival Apple is rumored to belaunching the Apple Watch 2 at an event on September 7, where the iPhone 7 is also expected to be unveiled.

Samsung demonstrates the ruggedness of the Gear S3 "Frontier" by putting it in sand at a demo at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, 2016.
Arjun Kharpal
Samsung demonstrates the ruggedness of the Gear S3 "Frontier" by putting it in sand at a demo at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, 2016.

Amid a recent turnaround in its smartphone fortunes, Samsung has been looking to build an ecosystem of products from the GearVR virtual reality headset to a 360 degree camera. The Gear S3 is the latest addition to the portfolio, as Samsung looks to these new devices to drive growth in the future amid a slowing smartphone market.

The Gear S3 launch also comes after Samsung this month reported unprecedented demand for its newly-announced Note7 device.

However, the smartwatch market has not really taken off the way many had predicted. In the second quarter of 2016, smartwatch shipments fell 32 percent year-on-year, according to IDC which said it was the first decline on record. Samsung however saw shipments rise over 50 percent in that period, but its market share of 16 percent is well behind the 47 percent boasted by Apple.

Samsung Gear S3 "Classic"
Arjun Kharpal
Samsung Gear S3 "Classic"

Despite the uncertain future for smartwatches, analysts said that the Gear S3 shows Samsung's commitment to the market.

"It is the most watch-like Gear product Samsung has launched, one of the big criticisms that has been levelled at Samsung is that they are taking design cues from the consumer electronics industry rather than design. You could argue previous watches were more akin to geek wear," Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC by phone.

"I'd say that the jury is still out whether there is mass market consumer demand for full touch smartwatches. But this is Samsung's best effort to date in terms of tapping into that market."

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