Samsung’s efforts to move away from Android in favour of Tizen – its own brand operating system – has generally been met with derision. But in the case of the Samsung Gear S, the company is right to favour its own OS rather than opt for Android Wear.
Android Wear does few favours for smartwatch manufacturers, especially ones like Samsung. By taking control away from the OS it leaves little room for differentiating your wearable from the rest, and it's left a lot of the current crop of watches looking a little sameish. In the smartphone market you can customise Android almost limitlessly, as Samsung has. But Android Wear is mercilessly locked down, and it’s not allowing for much innovation.
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When you put Google in charge of the functions and features of your device and the exact detail of what the users will see when they gaze into its face, the only variables become your product’s physical, industrial design and how much you’re going to charge for it. Neither of these are Samsung’s strong suits.
For Samsung, design is traditionally an area where the company falls behind. Take a look at the top mobiles and, next to the iPhone and the HTC One, it's the Samsung S5 that's the ugly sister. It's the same throughout the Galaxy family. Industrial design from Samsung is more imitative than it is groundbreaking or progressive. They tend to fit in with the mode rather than spearheading the next trend, and that’s bad news for wearables.
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Running with Tizen enables Samsung to play to its strengths in order to differentiate. Big-screens and octo-core processors are a couple of Samsung's strong points; so why not pack a smartwatch full of every high-end chip there is to persuade customers that your super-connected device is the one to go for?
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The Samsung Gear S’s unique blend of top end features and gorgeous screen is Samsung expressing itself, and it’s the first step on the long road of wearables replacing smartphones forever.
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Compared to Android on smartphones, Tizen is a very poor cousin. But as far as the brief existence of smartwatches goes, Tizen is something of a godfather.
Tizen’s already strides ahead, in terms of smartwatch experience, of Android Wear and it’s also gathered a pretty decent developer community and app support and Samsung announced at IFA 2014 that Tizen has passed the 1,000 app mark. That's a milestone only reached by Pebble earlier in the year.
And it's not just about the quantity. The arrival of the slick-screened Samsung Gear S also marks a hugely important tie-in with Nike+ whose running app you can now get for the device. That's a massive coup for Samsung in the smartwatch space, and shows the power Tizen wields.
Samsung is rewriting the rulebook from the smartphone arms race, which Android is clearly dominating, and learning from its mistakes. So far Samsung has been faster, more nimble, more aggressive and more creative than Google in its development of Tizen. Until Google Now is developed to be the wrist-mounted oracle you can’t live without, Tizen seems to hold a lot of the cards.
Samsung seems to be playing this one absolutely right by sticking with Tizen for its top wearables. Sure, the company may back Android Wear to stay in the Google game, but its quietly dominating the market with its home-grown OS, and has everything to gain.