February 19, 2014, 12:40 PM — Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch suffers a number of usability problems, but one of its core issues--a confusing user interface--might soon get a reboot. USA Today reported Tuesday that Samsung is ditching Android, the system that currently runs underneath the Gear's user interface, and is replacing it with the HTML5 version of Tizen, Samsung's own homegrown, open-source OS.
In its report, USA Today ascribed the information to three anonymous sources, and said an updated Gear smartwatch will be revealed at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month.
Obviously, Samsung may not give its interface a complete makeover, as the Gear's current UI is just a skin that could run on top of either code base. But if the sources' information is correct, it indicates Samsung might be ready to make dramatic changes to its smartwatch--a wearable that needs dramatic changes, as my review explains.
Assuming Android is out and Tizen is in, Samsung would have to embark on a different approach to third-party apps. Software would be based on HTML5, and while this may attract more third-party developers--folks steeped in the knowledge of relatively simple web coding--it would also force the Gear's software platform to start from scratch. But perhaps this is a good thing. It's not like the smartwatch's current cadre of apps has any standouts that couldn't benefit from clean-slate makeovers.
So why Tizen? Why now?
As Google gets out of the smartphone hardware business, it's moving closer to connected devices like home appliances and wearables like Samsung's Galaxy Gear. That was Google's implicit messaging after it bought Nest Labs, and then sold Motorola to Lenovo--two huge deals in January. But even though Samsung will probably prove out as a net winner in the aftermath of the Motorola sale, the South Korean electronics giant still wants to enjoy as much self-determination as possible as the wearables market grows.
Thus Tizen, an operating system that Samsung essentially controls. It could be a good hedge against an impossibly powerful Google as Google Glass and an inevitable Google smartwatch take shape. Google is committing to wearables big-time, and Samsung is looking five years down the line. With Tizen, Samsung wouldn't have to cede any control of its wearables destiny to another company--as it does so now via its Android relationship with Google.