Samsung Gets to Your Wrist Before Apple

Does Samsung's victory in the race to put a phone on your wrist mean that Apple's in trouble?

It looks like Samsung -- not Apple! -- will be first to market with the product we've all been expecting since David Hasselhoff used a souped-up digital watch to summon his talking Trans-Am. That's right, a wrist-phone, known as the Galaxy Gear, will apparently debut next month. It will not come with a sentient automobile, but it will be able to surf the Web, make phone calls, and send e-mails -- presumably, short ones.

I'm tempted to say, "Who would want one of these?" But I gave into that temptation about the iPhone, and then the iPad, and well, it turns out that I do. Apparently, I am extremely bad at predicting what sorts of electronic devices I want, much less what the rest of the country will buy. So I will not venture to guess whether there is an actual market for this product.

Instead I'll point out what's really interesting, which is that Samsung, not Apple, is getting there first. Post-Steve Jobs , Apple seems to be turning into more of a normal technology company. Which has implications. The last time Apple turned into a normal technology company post-Jobs, things got kind of grim, kind of fast.

That's not to say that Apple is headed for the junk heap; my home is filled with Apple devices, and so are millions of others. But some of the magic edge, the market-leading innovation, seems to be a bit blunted.

Every company has to negotiate this sort of transition when its founder departs. Some handle it beautifully. Others have a grim interim which they eventually turn around, like Ford in its botched hand-off to Edsel. And still others never quite recover; they live off their brand capital for a while and eventually fade away.

I don't know of any good way to tell which of these three paths Apple will follow. But the Galaxy Gear's jump on the iWatch to market can't be a good sign.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.