Samsung isn't making it easy for developers. The company may have released a handful of SDKs for its latest devices, but Samsung's non-committal approach to its Tizen platform is probably going to cost it developer support.
Samsung's first smartwatch, released in October last year, ran a modified version of Google's Android platform. The device had access to about 80 apps at launch, all of which were managed by a central smartphone app. Samsung offered developers an SDK for the Galaxy Gear so they could create more apps. Developers obliged. Then Samsung changed direction.
Samsung announced a new series of smartwatches in February: the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit. Unlike the first device, these three run Samsung's Tizen platform. Tizen is based on Linux and other open-source standards. Samsung has been working on Tizen with Intel for years. It is supposed to be used for smartphones, but why not throw it into a watch? This way Samsung can say it relies on Google for one less thing. Though the user interface of the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo looks nearly identical to that of the first smartwatch, all the underlying code is different. Samsung also released a brand new set of SDKs for its Tizen-based watches, but the devices launched with only a couple dozen apps and developers haven't been as quick to add more. (Granted, it is still early days for the Tizen watches.)
This week, Samsung made things even more interesting. Speaking to Reuters, Yoon Han-kil, senior vice president of Samsung's product strategy team, said the company is working on a watch that will use Google's Android Wear platform. In other words, Samsung will bring three different watches to market with three different operating systems in under a year. At this point, developers might be best off if they ignore the first- and second-generation smartwatches from Samsung and wait for the third. Here's why.
Android Wear is Google's new platform for wearable devices. It is based on Android, but will be modified for smaller screens and varying form factors. The first such devices will be smartwatches. Motorola and LG have already committed to bringing smartwatches to market. They showed off early builds of their stuff last month (Motorola's watch looks hot!) Samsung has thrown its hat in this ring, too. Why? Because it has to. Samsung can't take the chance of ignoring this new Google-backed platform for wearables. Android Wear is probably going to become the default platform for most wearables moving forward. With a number of major companies supporting the platform, it has the best chance of succeeding in this still-nascent market. Google is naturally offering developers an SDK for Android Wear so they can create apps for the platform.
Since Android Wear is on the horizon, it really raises questions about just how much effort developers should put into Samsung's Tizen smartwatches. Samsung sold about 3.5 million Galaxy Gear devices in 2013. The improved devices will likely sell in similar or somewhat higher numbers thanks to expanded smartphone support. Android Wear-based hardware, however, is on deck to clobber those numbers. Supporting Tizen won't be an entirely wasted effort, but the bigger numbers down the road could be more enticing to developers and cause some to skip Tizen for the time being.