Samsung Offers Tizen Upgrade for Android-Running Gear Smartwatch

More overhaul than update, Samsung is offering Gear owners the option to switch from Android to Tizen, which has twice as many apps.

Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Samsung has offered Galaxy Gear owners the option to update their aging smartwatches to the software that's run by its newer Gear 2. Noteworthy is that while the Gear runs Google's Android OS, the Gear 2 runs the Samsung-backed Tizen.

"The update is completely optional," Samsung wrote in the second sentence of a very brief July 21 blog post. Is it possible that both—the comment and the post—were designed to downplay what may be not-great news for Google?

"Clearly, Samsung is on a rapid development curve, and by offering a migration path to Tizen it can leverage the work it has been doing with the more recent Tizen-based Gear 2 smartwatch," Matt Wilkins, director or tablets and wearables with Strategy Analytics, told eWEEK.

Wilkins also offered the reminder that the Samsung Gear Live smartwatch runs Android. "They are keeping all options open," he said.

Analyst Roger Kay, with Endpoint Technologies, told eWEEK that the news may have more to do with the fact that Samsung intends to make more Tizen phones.

“Clearly, Samsung would like its Tizen phones to talk with its Gear products, which are likely to grow as a share of Samsung’s total product portfolio,” said Kay. “But it may be announcing this step quietly, in a diplomatic nod to Google, which remains an important supplier.”

Gear owners who accept the upgrade will have access to nearly 140 applications—approximately twice as many as are currently available to the Gear.

They'll also have more independence from their phones. Instead of having to rely on a compatible device to listen to music, the upgrade will enable the Gear to store music and play it back through Bluetooth headphones.

Additionally, the upgrade will offer an improved interface with new options to customize fonts, wallpapers and home screen icons, among other details. It will also extend the smartwatch's battery life, and users will gain access to improved health and fitness functionalities, including the ability to track workouts, whether walking, running, cycling or hiking.

Performing the update will connect the device owner to "the growing community of Tizen owners," said Samsung. But once updated, it added, the Gear "cannot be reverted" to the original Android-based OS.

Samsung's Shift to Tizen

Samsung introduced the Gear in September 2013, alongside the Note 3, a "phablet" with a 5.7-inch display that was the only phone the Gear could interact with.

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo (the latter doesn't have a camera) arrived in February, running Tizen and able to connect to dozens of Galaxy devices. And in June, Samsung introduced the Gear Live, a smartwatch with Google's Android Wear software and the ability to connect to any Android device running version 4.3 or higher.

In Tizen—a Linux-based OS that came out of MeeGo, the OS Intel and Nokia collaborated on for a time—Samsung has found an alternative to its reliance on Google; a reliance that has grown with the success of Samsung's Galaxy devices.

The Tizen Association's board includes five wireless carriers and representatives from Fujitsu, Huawei, LG and Intel, in addition to Samsung, and its Partner Program—as of the Tizen Developer Conference in June—now has at least 88 partners.

In June, Samsung introduced the Samsung Z, the first smartphone to run Tizen, saying it enables users to "browse the Web faster and utilize applications more efficiently," though not specifying more or faster than what.

In addition to wearables, Tizen is expected to gain traction in the connected car market, and Strategy Analytics has named it—along with Firefox and Windows Phone—as among the fastest-growing operating systems that it expects will erode Android's market share over the next five years.

At the introduction of the Gear 2, Samsung CEO JK Shin said the company had "enhanced everything consumers love about the Gear to offer unparalleled smart freedom in their everyday life."

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