September 2, 2015

Samsung's Gear S2 Tizen Watch Launches as Android Wear Opens to iOS

samsung-gear-s2Samsung unveiled its Tizen Linux-based Gear S2 smartwatch, which it teased a few weeks ago at the recent Galaxy Note 5 and Edge S6+ launch. The round-faced watch boasts up to three days battery life and features a rotating bezel to augment the touchscreen UI. It will also be available in a slightly thicker 3G model with up to two hours of life that supports voice calls, according to a report from The Verge.

The Gear S2 features a round, 1.2-inch 360x360 AMOLED display with IP68 dust- and water resistance, as well as WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC. It measures 11.5mm thick, or about a millimeter thicker than the Apple Watch. The 3G version swells to 13.4mm. The watch runs Tizen on a dual-core 1GHz processor with 512MB RAM and 4GB flash, and it offers a variety of sensors including a heart-rate monitor. The 3G version of the watch will be carried by mobile providers including Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T.

Samsung announced a ship date sometime in October but no pricing information as yet. Another important detai: Will the Gear S2 sync with non-Samsung mobile devices? Initially, Samsung did not reveal whether this remained true with the new watch, but now says It will work with all Android 4.4 and higher phones with more than 1.5GB of RAM. AndroidCentral notes that Samsung documentation lists more than 30 non-Samsung models that are supported from a wide variety of vendors.

Android Wear, meanwhile, seems to be heading in an opposite, and more open, direction. This week, Google announced that new Android Wear devices, starting with the LG Watch Urbane, will support synchronization with the latest iPhones (5, 5c, 5s, 6, or 6 Plus running iOS 8.2+).

Future Android Wear devices will also support Apple's phone, such as the upcoming Asus ZenWatch 2, Huawei Watch, and an upcoming refresh of the Motorola Moto 360. Also onboard for iPhone support is the newly announced, $1,200 LG Watch Urbane Luxe. The round-faced, 24-karat gold variant of the Urbane was developed with Reeds Jewelers and is due to ship in limited quantities in October.

Although not officially supported, older Android Wear watches can also start linking up to iPhones, according to 9to5Google, which downloaded the new Android Wear for iOS app and tested it successfully with the LG G Watch R and Motorola Moto 360. Other models are also likely to work, although that could change with future versions of the app.

According to AndroidPolice, third-party, non-Google apps are currently not supported with the iOS app, and there's no support for WiFi. However, you get Google Now voice support, fitness features, and the usual notifications for calls, messages, and social networking services.

Samsung Adds Obstacles to Smartwatch Success

The iOS app is not likely to swing a huge number of new customers toward the struggling Android Wear, but it should help. Even in the Apple-friendly U.S. market, Android phones are more common than iPhones, but most iPhone users who can afford it are opting for the Apple Watch. As AndroidPolice notes, "Your average iPhone user likely isn't even aware Android Wear exists." The primary users of the Android Wear iOS app will likely be iPhone users looking for a round watch-face and an under $300 price -- two attributes the Apple Watch lacks.

As expected, the Apple Watch has quickly eclipsed the cumulative sales of Android Wear devices. According to a new IDC report, Apple shipped 3.6 million Apple Watches in the second quarter, or 19.9 percent of all smart wristwatches and wristbands. In a vendor comparison, Apple trailed only Fitbit, which had 24.3 percent share, and was followed by simpler, fitness-oriented wearables from Xiaomi (Mi Band) and Garmin. Samsung came in fifth with just 3.3 percent share, most of which were from the Gear S as well as its own, non-Tizen-based Gear Fit fitness band, says IDC. Samsung seems to have given up on making any more of its poorly selling Android Wear devices.

While the iOS app removes the last major restriction for Android Wear, Samsung's Tizen watches face larger obstacles if the company continues to limit sync to Samsung devices. Yet, opening up to other Android phones is far more important. Had Samsung continued with its walled garden policy, it would have faced considerable obstacles to success.

Samsung continues to lead Android smartphone market share and has a larger lead in terms of the installed base, but that share is shrinking as Xiaomi and other mostly Chinese vendors gain in popularity. It is no longer in a position to demand an Apple-like closed ecosystem.

This is especially true because the company also has to convince even its own installed base to give Tizen a chance. Tizen for Wearables looks to be a perfectly suitable alternative to Android Wear and is in many ways superior. This is especially true if you're interested in a richer feature set including the 3G and bezel ring extensions added to showcase the Gear S2 3G edition. The latest Tizen-based UI on the Gear S2 also looks impressive. Yet, there's still a large app gap between Tizen for Wearables and Android Wear, which continues to grow its app library.

IDC's report sums up the situation perfectly: "Given Samsung's history of making its latest wearable devices compatible only with Samsung's top models and nearly exclusive reliance on Tizen, the company has limited its potential reach. Whether that trend continues with the Gear S2 will bear close observation."

Samsung has answered that question appropriately and can now move forward with more confidence especially since the Gear S2 looks to be a quality product.

The core problem is that there can probably only be one Apple at a time, and it's even conceivable that Apple may be the last closed-source tech company to enjoy such success. Open source has changed the rules of the game, forcing vendors to follow suit. Samsung’s mobile success was built upon open source Android, and Samsung has been the prime mover behind the even more open source Tizen.

Betting on Tizen smartwatches makes sense considering how slow Android Wear sales have been. But that's enough risk on its own. Then again, there's still time for Samsung to announce it's opening up the Gear S2 to Android and iPhone users. In that case, never mind.

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