Mobile

Samsung teases upcoming round Gear smartwatch

The company gives developers access to the software for its seventh wearable but hasn't unveiled the device yet.

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Samsung posted a photo of what appears to be a round watch screen on its website. Screenshot by Shara Tibken/CNET

Samsung's got another smartwatch up its sleeve.

The South Korean mobile giant on Thursday posted a graphic and press release on its website saying developers can access its software development kit to build apps for an upcoming, not-yet-announced Gear wearable. The company simply said the device -- its seventh in the past two years -- would be another "wrist watch type." Gear is the name for Samsung's line of wearables that includes its Gear S curved smartwatch, its Gear Circle wireless headphones and its Gear VR virtual-reality headset.

The graphic showed what appeared to be a round smartwatch screen, which would be a first for Samsung. The company's previous smartwatches have sported rectangular and curved screens, but none has been circular like Motorola's Android Wear smartwatch. The Moto 360 received a lot of attention and accolades before its launch, but the device had issues -- including that the software was designed for a rectangular screen and left a black "flat tire" appearance on the edges of the screen. Other companies, including LG and Huawei, also have released round smartwatches over the past year.

Samsung said to stay tuned for more information about its next smartwatch. "We will unveil details on the timing of the product announcement when we are ready," the company told CNET.

Samsung has released more smartwatches than its rivals in an effort to define and control the market. That's particularly important as Apple prepares to launch its first smartwatch on Friday. Samsung was the market share leader for smartwatches last year, but Strategy Analytics and other tech research firms expect Apple's sales to surpass Samsung's in 2015. It is key for both companies to expand beyond smartphones and tablets, two markets that are experiencing slower growth.

Samsung was expected to introduce a new round smartwatch alongside the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge at the Mobile World Congress trade show in March. Instead, the company focused on its new smartphones and its virtual-reality headsets. It's likely the company was waiting to see what Apple would introduce with its smartwatch before proceeding with its newest device.

What changes smartwatches from "nice-to-have" to "must-have" devices is what users can actually do with them. The real trick is convincing app developers to invest in creating programs for smartwatches that will show off what you can actually do with it. Apple's iPad tablet and iPhone became popular with the help of third-party software developers, who collectively have created more than a million apps for those mobile devices.

Samsung worked with developers on apps before its wearables launched in the past, but this is the first time it has opened up its SDK to a broader group before even announcing the device. The company has long partnered with Google for its smartphone and tablet operating system, but it has shifted its wearables to its own homegrown software, Tizen.

While Samsung has made a push to get developers interested in Tizen, including by hosting developer conferences and helping fund development, interest in the software has remained low. Some developers, such as Citi and JetBlue, have opted to make Apple Watch apps first before venturing into Tizen or Android Wear.

"The majority of our users are Apple users," said Maryssa Miller, director of digital commerce at JetBlue. And "Apple has been the leader on the customer experience side of things."

The Apple Watch App Store went live Thursday with more than 3,000 apps, and app store analytics company appFigures believes the Apple Watch store will grow to about 100,000 apps within the next year.

"The launch of the Watch App Store will create a rush for developers that's very similar to the original [iPhone] gold rush of 2008," appFigures CEO Ariel Michaeli said in a blog post. Apple in January said App Store developers had earned $25 billion from the sale of apps and games since the store launched.

Samsung said there are about 3,000 app currently available for its Gear devices.

"We aim to enrich the smart wearable experiences through broader collaboration with app partners and developers," the company told CNET.

Here's the full image from Samsung's site:

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Samsung wants developers to make apps for its next smartwatch. Samsung

Updated at 11:30 a.m. PT with additional background information and developer comments.

Updated at 6:15 p.m. PT with information about app store numbers and comment from Samsung.