After running its own Tizen platform for several years, Samsung has now teamed up with Google for all future smartwatch efforts. The partnership doesn't mean Samsung is abandoning Tizen for Wear OS; instead, the two platforms are merging to create a "unified experience." The new platform will just be called Wear.
This is very exciting for Wear OS fans, because the best features from Samsung's smartwatches — easily the best Android smartwatches you can buy today — are coming to the platform. Here's everything you need to know about the new Wear platform, and what you can look forward to in the coming months.
What new features are coming to Wear?
The core features of Tizen are being ported over to the new Wear platform. That includes Samsung's innovative rotating bezel UX that's present on current Galaxy smartwatches, optimized performance, and long-lasting battery life.
Wear OS has had longstanding issues with performance and battery life, so it will be interesting to see if these problems are addressed with the new platform. From Samsung:
The great experiences that consumers loved on previous Galaxy smartwatches will continue on this unified platform. Samsung implemented our best technology to provide optimized performances, and advanced sensor batching and low power display technology to ensure an efficient and long-lasting battery.
Will Samsung Health / Google Fit be available on the new Wear platform?
Samsung Health is a big part of what makes Galaxy smartwatches stand out, and the focus on health and wellness is still intact with the new platform. Samsung has stated that existing Samsung Health data can be exported to the new OS, but the wording below suggests the service will be available under a new moniker:
We know that health and wellness are at the forefront of consumers' minds, and we're excited to continue building the industry-leading health experience on our new unified platform with Google.
Beloved Samsung services like Samsung Health will continue to be core to the Galaxy experience and available on Galaxy smartwatches. For the users who have enjoyed Samsung Health service, the service will continue on the new OS and data is exportable to the new OS. Samsung Health is not part of the new OS for smartwatches.
As for Google Fit, the service will continue to work on the new Wear platform, with Google adding Fitbit integration:
We recently announced an update for Fit in February and we look forward to the new ways our users will continue to interact with Wear OS health experiences. In the future, consumers will also have more choice than ever with Fitbit joining Fit on Wear OS, as we work to bring the best of both platforms together.
What does this mean for third-party apps?
Google and Samsung have created an open ecosystem with the new Wear platform, paving the way for more third-party apps. For starters, upcoming Galaxy smartwatches from Samsung will include the Play Store out of the box. The fact that there's just one unified platform for Android smartwatches going forward makes it easier for devs to launch apps:
With the new unified platform, we are unlocking a whole world of opportunities for the developer community. With a broad, open ecosystem, more developers and partners can apply their talents to work with us in evolving and redefining the smartwatch experience.
Will current Galaxy smartwatches get the update to Wear OS?
The new Wear platform sounds very interesting, but if you're using a current Galaxy smartwatch, you won't be able to make the switch. Samsung has confirmed that existing Galaxy smartwatches are not updateable to the new platform:
The new co-created OS for smartwatches is not updatable on existing Galaxy smartwatches. At Samsung, we place our users at the heart of everything we do and are always looking to bring them the best possible experiences. For those users who currently own Galaxy smartwatches, we are committed to providing software updates and Galaxy Store support.
What does this mean for existing Galaxy smartwatches?
As for updates to Samsung's current portfolio of Galaxy smartwatches, the manufacturer has clarified that it will continue to deliver updates up to three years following the product launch. That means devices like the Galaxy Watch 3 will receive updates at least until August 2023:
For customers who already own the Tizen OS based Galaxy smartwatches, we are continuing to provide at least three years of software support after the product launch.
What about current Wear OS smartwatches?
When asked about whether current Wear OS smartwatches will be updated to the new Wear platform, a Google spokesperson had this to say:
We will have more updates to share on timelines once the new version launches later this year.
While it's not a definitive answer, it does look likely that existing Wear OS smartwatches will be able to switch over to the new platform. But like so many things with Google Wear, we will have to see how the update situation pans out.
Will the new platform be available for other manufacturers?
Absolutely. Google is opening up the new Wear platform to all manufacturers, and all the features that are being introduced here will be available to the likes of Mobvoi, Fossil, and other Android smartwatch makers. What's particularly interesting is that Google is allowing device makers much more control over customization, making it possible for someone like Xiaomi to leverage the platform and make extensive changes.
The fact that device makers get unfettered access to the smartwatch platform is a huge deal. From Samsung:
Samsung and Google have co-developed a new wearable OS that fuse the best of their abilities to introduce an industry-leading smartwatch experience. This combined platform isn't just for Samsung and Google. It will be available for all device makers.
It is entirely likely that we may see a MIUI or ColorOS branded smartwatch that is based on the new platform. I asked Google about the feasibility of the same, and got this response:
While we can't comment on this specific example, thanks to our new, unified platform with Samsung device partners will have more customization options than ever before - resulting in more choice for users.
How will software updates work with the new Wear platform?
Along with increased customizability, Google is turning over control in terms of software updates to device makers. That means that Samsung's Wear OS-powered smartwatches will receive updates directly from the South Korean manufacturer, much like its Galaxy phones.
This could be troublesome — just look at the state of Android updates — but we will have to wait and see how Google deals with the issue. There's no guaranteed update policy for smartwatches at this point, so until Google clarifies how device makers will handle updates, we can only speculate.
This is just the start
The new direction for Wear bodes well for Android smartwatches, and it is exciting to see Google make progress in this area. Partnering with Samsung is the right move for Google here, and I'm intrigued to find out what the new platform can offer.
The first slate of devices powered by the new Wear platform should be debuting in the latter half of the year, and we'll talk about them extensively as soon as they break cover.