How Samsung killed Android Wear and why the Gear S4 won't run Wear OS

How Samsung killed Android Wear and why the Gear S4 won't run Wear OS
Back in 2014, Google and Samsung were bickering over the ill-fated Android Wear behind closed doors, with the Big G expressing displeasure in the fact that one of its biggest partners is investing increasingly more effort and money into building Tizen as a robust, competitive operating system for wearable devices. And looking back at this now, considering what happened to Android Wear in the following years, it's safe to assume that Samsung knew what it was doing, and perhaps, that it even played an instrumental role in the downfall of Android Wear (which is being revamped as Wear OS, by the way, so don't despair).

The original Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch launched in 2013 and ran a modified version of Android 4.3 — Android Wear had not been released yet — but a year later, following the launch of Android Wear, Samsung decided to go with Tizen for the Gear 2. What's more, the company even went on to release updates for the original Galaxy Gear that replaced its Android-based operating system with Tizen. Google was reportedly not overwhelmed with joy over Samsung's decision, but it couldn't do much more than try to convince the South Korean tech giant otherwise. But Samsung went its own way, and while sales of Android Wear smartwatches languished (heck, Motorola even quit the smartwatch game), Samsung Gear watches continued to dominate the market alongside Apple. And arguably, Samsung couldn't have achieved this success, had it stuck to Android in its then-current form.

Why Samsung ditched Android in favor of Tizen

The Samsung Galaxy Gear ran Android when it was originally released in 2013, but it was updated to Tizen short of a year later. Samsung hasn't looked back since.

Samsung smartwatches have a number of stand-out features, including good designs, great build quality, long battery life, and a unique method of control. Two of these features wouldn't have been as robust (or even possible), had Samsung opted to stick with Android for its smartwatches, and these are the exceptional battery life and the rotating bezel.

In the very beginning, Android smartwatches not only ran modified smartphone versions of the OS, but were powered by unimpressive Snapdragon chipsets, which were appropriated from smartphones. This combination lead to poor performance and inadequate battery life on the vast majority of Android smartwatches at the time. Samsung also started with Exynos processors that were scaled-down versions used in other products, but was smart to opt for a proprietary OS that could be tailored and optimized to run on its own hardware. In other words, Samsung pulled an "Apple" by pairing its own hardware with proprietary software that was highly optimized and efficient. Unlike Apple, however, Samsung eventually made Gear smartwatches compatible with pretty much all iOS and Android devices, but that's a different story.

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As for the rotating bezel mentioned above, Samsung could have ostensibly made it possible on Android, but it would have required the UI to be completely retailored into a "skin"  — as is the case with the Samsung Experience (former TouchWiz) — in order to facilitate for the unique input method. This would have made the OS heavier and more demanding, which Samsung simply deemed impractical, considering the modest smartwatch processors and batteries of the time. Running a heavily altered Android skin on a smartphone is one thing, making it work on a 1.6-inch smartwatch is a different story entirely.

Why Samsung isn't going back to Android (for now)

The Gear S4 (a.k.a Galaxy Watch) will most likely still run Tizen

Samsung recently trademarked the Galaxy Watch name and even submitted a new Galaxy Watch logo to the Korean Intellectual Property Office. This spurred a torrential rain of rumors that Samsung's next smartwatch may not only drop the Gear moniker and become a part of the Galaxy brand umbrella, but also run Android, instead of Tizen (the logic here being that if Galaxy phones are running Android, then Galaxy Watches should, too). This was further amplified by reliable tipster @EvLeaks who at the time tweeted: "Seen on the wrists of Samsung employees: Gear watches running not Tizen, but Wear OS."

However, days after his first tweet, Evan Blass again chimed in on the matter:

This is indicative of two things: A) Google is still interested in convincing Samsung to work on an Android smartwatch, and B) Samsung is likely not doing it this year.

Samsung has a good thing with smartwatches right now. It's making its own hardware that runs proprietary software that's perfectly optimized. The one thing that Wear OS has that Tizen doesn't is the open ecosystem, the variety of apps. Why you'd need a million apps on your smartwatch, when what Tizen currently offers is quite enough, in my opinion at least, is beyond me, but it is something that Android has over Samsung's offering. However, I don't think this will be enough to make Samsung ditch Tizen and move to Wear OS. Not for the time being, at least.

Thing is, if Samsung could use Tizen for its Galaxy smartphones and remain competitive, it would. It's just that Android is so ubiquitous and widely-used, and with Apple's choke on the rest of the market, Samsung's chances of pushing Tizen big-time in the smartphone space are not good. However, things are different on the smartwatch market, where Samsung and Apple are reigning supreme with their proprietary hardware and software.

Could Samsung adopt Wear OS in the future?

The answer is obviously "yes," but only if the company deems it advantageous. Google no doubt has big plans for Wear OS, as was made evident at this year's I/O conference, while Qualcomm is preparing to launch a brand-new Snapdragon chipset made for wearable devices from the ground-up. This, combined with the fact that Google reportedly has "several partners", including top fashion and tech brands, on board to release new Wear OS-powered products by the end of 2018 could shake things up.

Could this persuade Samsung to drop Tizen and move to Wear OS? Well, it is possible, provided Wear OS rebounds and becomes the competitive smartwatch OS it should have been from the very beginning, but it's too early to tell right now. For the time being, we think it's relatively safe to assume that Samsung will stick with its proprietary OS for wearables, and though the Gear S4 may actually be called the Galaxy Watch, it will likely still run an updated version of Tizen, rather than Android.

What do you think? Are you content with Tizen on your Samsung smartwatch, or would you rather have access to the variety of apps Android has to offer? Tell us in the comments below.



1. vasra

Posts: 130; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

The battery life on WearOS (compared to Tizen) is abysmal. And WearOS is so power hungry and the smart watches have a dinky underpowered SoC. Tizen - for now - is the much better solution, even if app selection is what it is.

5. tuminatr

Posts: 1142; Member since: Feb 23, 2009

I own a Huawei watch 2 classic and it goes about 3 days on a charge. For a comparison how long to the Samsung gear watches go on a change?

6. Jason2k13

Posts: 1467; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

According to reviews, gear S3 can last 3 to 4 days on a single charge... you probably should do some research first before embarrassing yourself.

14. sgodsell

Posts: 7437; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

I guess vasra should have done some research as well. Especially when he talks about the Qualcomm SoC being under powered. The Wear 2100 is a quad core 1.2 GHz SoC that can handle HD displays, which is definitely over powered on a smart watch. So it is definitely over powered, and not under powered. Also Android Wear or Wear OS has a lot more apps.

19. AllMight

Posts: 1; Member since: Jul 11, 2018

Why so much aggression. He just asked a simple question. Perhaps he's looking for facts from a user rather than a site review. Don't be a d*ck.

20. michaellengyel33

Posts: 5; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

I guess it would also depends on how you use your smart watch. I had a Fossil Q Sport with Wear OS and battery sucked. I ended up getting a Gears S3 and I get far more hours out of it. App support in the other hand weeeeell.

2. Papa_Ji

Posts: 855; Member since: Jun 27, 2016

Bixby + Tizen >>> wearOS

3. master-mkk

Posts: 214; Member since: Aug 27, 2014

There is no point of compassion wearos is dead I mean when was the last time a smartwatch come out from an established manufacturer ? More than a year and a half Tizen is so much better in term of the functionality and smoothness it only lacks the app ecosystem compared to Apple watch os other than that it is the best smartwatch on the market IMO

4. apple-rulz

Posts: 2195; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

“Samsung Gear watches continued to dominate the market alongside Apple.” Not hardly, Apple alone is the one dominating the smart watch market, the Gear watches trail wayyyyyyy behind in the “other smart watches sold” category. As good as the Gear watches are, they suffer from looking like any other watch-there is nothing ubiquitous about them. Love the Apple Watch or hate it, but there is no denying its styling stands out.

8. tedkord

Posts: 17413; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Ugly often does stand out.

13. apple-rulz

Posts: 2195; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

You should know ;)

7. Settings

Posts: 2943; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

Tizen is better off as a watch OS than a smartphone OS.

9. Rampage_Taco

Posts: 1079; Member since: Jan 17, 2017

this pretty much sums it up here. Tizen is a lightweight software with minimal but essential app support. Exactly what you need for a small second device. But it would never justify as a primary OS, unless Samsung is able to make some major changes and get a fuller ecosystem of apps and app support. But if Microsoft couldn't do it, I couldn't imagine Samsung could. Although I wouldn't be opposed to playing with an entry level Samsung running Tizen to see what could have been

11. luis.aag90

Posts: 277; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

There were about 3 Samsung Tizen powered phones, but those were released to few markets. The last I can recall is the Samsung Z3. It looks like a J series from 2 years ago and comparable HW, though

10. Ublome

Posts: 24; Member since: Oct 06, 2017

I dont need a bunch of apps on my watch, as long as it works with basic ones like Spotify, messages etc. Im fine. IMO the main thing the Samsung watches have on the competition is the Samsung Pay and the look of the watch. The watches look nice and are a nice size. The Apple watches are small and odd looking.

12. luis.aag90

Posts: 277; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

Wrong, the Gear Live never got Tizen. I had one for a year, when I sold it in early 2016 it still had Android Wear (dreadful BTW) then I got the Gear S2 which still rocks. I don't see Samsung ditching Tizen on their Smartwatches anytime soon; they are working on IoT and Smart appliances powered by Tizen. Their TVs also have Tizen since 2015.

15. youssef44

Posts: 547; Member since: Apr 29, 2014

I think Android Wear will be great choice for next samsung watch because of the applications and because of Google pay

16. Tizen_Gear

Posts: 1; Member since: Jul 10, 2018

You don't know the way Samsung works! Samsung has two tracks. Galaxy for Android and Gear for Tizen. So Galaxy Watch will run on Wear OS than Tizen. If Gear S 4 come out, it will run Tizen. It depends on the Name!

17. p51d007

Posts: 705; Member since: Nov 24, 2013

I'm not "into apps" on my watch or phone. The essentials that I use on the phone, no games. It's a tool...end of the day I don't even touch the phone. The smartwatch, notifications so I don't have to grab the phone to see who's trying to pester me. Time, temperature, heart rate, steps taken, that's pretty much it. My Gear3 frontier, gets 2 days easy on a charge, which is good enough.

18. cheetah2k

Posts: 2271; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

I'd prefer Tizen over WearOS any day of the week and twice on sunday. Every android watch I've ever owned has had issues - but mostly battery life issues. My Gear Sport lasts 4-5 days with the basic notifications from messaging, calls and SMS. It's so bl00dy perfect as it is. I really hope Samsung sticks with Tizen - if they switch to WearOS, that'll be the end for me...

21. michaellengyel33

Posts: 5; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

I love Tizen more then Wear OS just wish it had better support with some apps. Like Google Music and Google Navigation/Maps. Other then these two main issues I enjoy my Gear S3 far more then I did with my Fossil Q Sport using Wear OS.

22. MobileNico

Posts: 95; Member since: Aug 26, 2012

As a non-Samsung Android user, I'm really hoping for wear os to improve with the new Snapdragon Wear chips, whenever it comes out. My Huawei watch 2 gets 3 days on a charge and offers its entire feature set to any Android phone I use, which is the exact same feature set as the frontier. Given that I can't see myself ever owning a Samsung phone as my daily driver (usually buy a note to play around with for a week or two), I and everyone else not using a Samsung will gladly wait for a new wear os watch.

23. miberg81

Posts: 1; Member since: Jun 01, 2014

Used to have original Gear S untill it died. Loved it and hated it at the same time. Loved for unique curved squre design and nicely designed OS and great calling function.Hated it for poor battery (less then half a day) but mostly for the lack of apps in Tizen, speciffically for their deliberate choice not to support all google. Could not have my favorite Google now (which is just made for the wrist), Google fit (was forced to Samsung health against my will), Gmail, Google callender i need and want!!! I still miss the watch but i did not buy another gear S because of Tizen and will never again buy Tizen watch, although they do beat Android watches in many aspects as of now. I'm quetly waiting now for Wear OS to close the gap (and i trust Google on that) and then i buy the watch with all the google apps i like and need. The auther of the story is right. Samsung played Apple in many positive aspects but also in a bad and nasty aspect of closing their OS to competetive platform OS's apps, which will cost them many costomers like i am.

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