NEW YORK -- Less than six months after announcing it would drop Android for a home-grown operating system, Samsung is getting back in the sack with the open-source OS. At Google's developer conference last week, officials announced that the Samsung Gear Live would be one of three smartwatches debuting Android Wear, but little attention was paid to the transition.
"We have found that consumers do not have a preference in terms of the OS that their wearable device supports, but the end-user experience is more important to the consumer than the OS," Samsung officials told EE Times. "We focus on comprehensive product offerings that fit a variety of consumer needs with different feature sets, creating the optimal wearable experience. Users can choose based on the experience they are looking for."
Samsung Gear Live smartwatch.
(Source: Android Community)
Android Wear is voice activated and syncs with smartphones to receive and control information. Users navigate by swiping up and down through cards based on apps from the watch and phone. Samsung previously committed to using the Tizen OS -- a Linux-based system that Samsung, Intel, and others launched in 2011 as an alternative to Android -- on its Gear and Gear Neo smartwatches, along with a real-time operating system (RTOS) on its Gear Fit fitness band.
Tizen offers a simpler OS, flexibility in form factor, and room to "integrate according to services," officials said, while the RTOS has less of a user interface and is meant to be more bare-bones. Android Wear is intuitive and optimized to Google services.
"With Gear Live, we wanted to create a device that was uniquely integrated into Google's software ecosystem," the officials said. "This offers users a completely Android-based wearable experience combined with the industry-leading design acumen of Samsung's Gear series."
Although Tizen has yet to take off as a viable alternative to Android, Samsung will continue to support it on older devices. Ben Bajarin, director of consumer technology at the consultant firm Creative Strategies, suspects Tizen may appear as a platform for Samsung TVs.
"Tizen was Samsung attempting to differentiate their platform in more ways than Google will allow them to," Bajarin said. "I don't think they'll give up on it because, in the back of their minds, this is a bet-hedging thing. I think the [last-generation Gear] watch was a simple attempt to see if they could get the ecosystem going, but from our perspective, the Tizen ecosystem is going nowhere. Samsung won't support Tizen with anywhere near the size of resources as Android."
The OS switch is likely just a push for Samsung's bottom line as developers and engineers will often follow trends -- and the money poured into them.
"Android Wear ecosystem is the environment that Google builds up for the wearable category to expand Android services beyond smartphones," Samsung officials said. "This will open up the gate for the developers to bring more opportunities on the wearable devices, as well as make the entire wearable market grow," and the market will expand as Android Wear is optimized.
Bajarin said smartwatches are still early adopter products, and the more companies Google has working on purposeful wearables, the quicker the product uptake will be.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times