Apple watchOS v Samsung Tizen: Battle of the smartwatch platforms

From app support to fitness, we see how the two operating systems match up
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Apple versus Samsung. These two tech giants have been fighting it out on the phone front for years and now they're tussling in the wearable tech space too.

Along with Android Wear, Apple's watchOS and Samsung's Tizen make up the biggest smartwatch operating system platforms and take very different approaches to smartwatches.

Smartwatch OS face-off: Samsung Tizen v Android Wear

Whether it's the UI, the apps or the hardware, there's going to be things you'll love and hate on both sides. The question is, which is the better of the two?

We've spent a good amount of time with the watchOS and Tizen-running smartwatches to find out.

Got any more questions about how the two operating systems match up? Let us know in the comments section below.

watchOS v Tizen: Smartwatches

Apple watchOS v Samsung Tizen: Battle of the smartwatch platforms

So let's start with the smartwatches that run on these two OS heavyweights. On the one side you have watchOS, which is only available on the Apple Watch, Apple Watch Series 1, Series 2 including the Nike+ edition. Over in the Samsung corner, you've currently got the Samsung Gear S2 and it's two bigger brothers; the Gear S3 Classic and Frontier. You can also give a nod to the Samsung Gear S and along with the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, which you can still pick up online. But if we're being honest, you're probably better off not spending your money on those ageing wearables.

If you go by numbers, then yes, there are more Tizen-packing wearables but if you're talking about the ones you should actually buy, it's pretty level pegged. The latest Apple Watch and the Gear S3 models are some of the best looking smartwatches but in very different ways. You've got a good set of options to choose from either side.

watchOS v Tizen: Compatible phones

When it comes to compatibility, there's really only one winner here and that's Samsung. While Apple has unsurprisingly taken the decision to only offer support for its own smartphones, Samsung has decided to be a bit more welcoming.

Initially, the Gear smartwatches would only work with Samsung's own phone and Android smartphones. Since then, it's has officially opened it's doors to iOS working with the iPhone 5 and above. What you need to keep in mind though is that the experience that you get on an iPhone is not entirely the same as it is on an Android phone. So yes, you'll be able to download apps to the Gear but you won't get the full notification experience.

What are the chances of Apple showing some love to Android? It's highly unlikely. So if you are looking at a smartwatch operating system that works across multiple phones, Samsung is your one.

watchOS v Tizen: Interface and features

Apple watchOS v Samsung Tizen: Battle of the smartwatch platforms

Apple's UI has been one of the biggest reasons why its phones, computers and tablets have been so successful. The learning curve is short and they're really easy to use. You couldn't quite say the same about watchOS when it first launched on the original Apple Watch. Through a succession of updates though, things have vastly improved as Apple continues to hone the elements that really make the UI work well.

Essential reading: What to expect from watchOS 4

It could perhaps learn something from Tizen and it's more streamlined approach that's a lot easier to get to grips with. Its circular surroundings dictate the look and feel of the UI. The app trays and separate data screens all live in one. Apple keeps things more scattered and the honeycomb app tray is not really to everyone's liking. Thankfully there is the option to ditch it in watchOS 4 though.

We should also talk about how the two operating systems are embracing watch hardware features, something Google also decided to do when it ushered in Android Wear 2.0 with the LG Watch Sport and the Watch Style smartwatches. On the one hand you've got the Apple Watch with its crown that let's you zoom into the pictures, maps and is open to third party app support although there's not many great examples of it being put to use. There's also the haptic-powered Force Touch that offers an alternative method to interact with the UI and apps. Samsung brings it's quite brilliant rotating bezel to the table that's become a focal point of Tizen and is being embraced by some app developers.

Watch faces are of course going to be a big deal for many because this is a watch, lest we forget. Both offer the ability to tinker with faces adding additional widgets. Apple has a bunch of official watch faces from the likes of Disney and the option to download more from the App Store as well. Both offer plenty of variety and customisation, so you're well catered on both platforms.

As far as notification and communication is concerned, Tizen and watchOS do a pretty good job on these fronts. You'll get first and third party notifications pop up on both watches and the ability to speak, tap out or record a response when needed. There's also support for taking calls if you really want to go all Dick Tracy as well. With speaker and microphone support comes virtual assistants as well, but this one where Apple comes out on top. It's a smarter Siri up against Samsung's S Voice, which lacks those smarts. Samsung's new Bixby AI assistant will be coming to the company's wearables, but if you need a helping hand, watchOS is your one.

watchOS v Tizen: Apps

Apple watchOS v Samsung Tizen: Battle of the smartwatch platforms

Ah, Samsung's Achilles' heel and it has been for some time. When it comes to the number of apps available on each platform, Apple is the outright winner. But that doesn't mean that Tizen isn't making some progress.

Read this: Best Samsung Gear S3 apps | Best Apple Watch apps

Of all the smartwatch platforms, Apple has the biggest collection and developers are starting to tap into sensors like GPS and the digital crown on the Watch to come up with more creative uses for the hardware.

App support has been a long-running problem for Samsung ever since it started making smartwatches and while the number of apps hasn't grown particularly, there's more high profile entries than there has ever been. So you now have the likes of Uber, Nest (which works with the rotating bezel) and Spotify that offers offline playback. There's also a number of smart home and car manufacturers supported as well.

But if you are all about smartwatch apps, then watchOS is winning this particular battle by some distance.

watchOS v Tizen: Health and fitness

Apple watchOS v Samsung Tizen: Battle of the smartwatch platforms

This might be a section that some will skip over, but we know there's plenty of people out there that are hoping their smartwatch can make a fitting sports watch or fitness tracker replacement as well. The good news then is that both Apple and Samsung try to cover those bases and more.

With watchOS, the foundations of Apple's fitness push is its Workout app to log workouts like running, cycling and swimming. Alongside it is the Activity app that acts like a Fitbit keeping track steps and staying active. There's no sleep tracking, but it looks likely that will be addressed by Apple with its recent acquisition of sleep monitor maker Beddit. If you're more concerned about keeping an eye on your blood pressure than how many steps you've walked, there's also Apple Health, a hub for a whole host of medical data as well.

S Health is Samsung's riposte to Apple's fitness features. It unlock similar features including activity tracking including sleep monitoring and with Samsung's smartwatches now featuring GPS and a host of other sensors, you can also track a multitude of sports including running and cycling.

One thing that Apple has in its favour in this department is the third party fitness app support. While Samsung has recently introduced Under Armour's suite of apps, the likes of Strava, Runkeeper and a host of swimming apps for example can tap into the workout features and Apple Watch sensors included on watchOS. So as far as robust, well supported setup, there's certainly more going on with Apple's operating system.

watchOS v Tizen: Verdict

So is it watchOS or Tizen for the OS win? It's a really difficult one because these operating systems are by no means the finished article, but they offer two of the most compelling options for prospective smartwatch owners.

On the one hand you have to praise Tizen for its simplicity, wider phone compatibility and improving fitness features. But then you've got watchOS that in our opinion has a much better approach to smartwatch elements like notification support, watch face customisation and has significantly better app support.

It really comes down to what you intend to use your smartwatch for most. If it's largely notifications from receiving to acting on them, then it's watchOS for us. For an OS that's just very easy to get to grips with then we have a lot of time for Tizen. Bottom-line, these are two solid operating systems that Samsung and Apple continue to improve, but for us, watchOS just about shades it.

TAGGED Smartwatches

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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