Smartwatch Operating Systems – What To Know

Smartwatches are pretty cool little devices that have tons of features and expanded capabilities due to the ability to download and use applications. When thinking about a smartwatch, you should see it in the same light as you would your laptop, desktop PC, smartphone, etc. Just like a computer, it needs to have something to manage the hardware, software resources, and provide services for the installed applications. This is where the smartwatch operating systems come into play.

A Quick Explanation on Smartwatch Operating Systems

Smartwatch operating systems (OS for short) can be classified as a mobile operating system. A mobile operating system is an OS for devices such as mobile phones, tablets, smartwatches, or other mobile devices.

Mobile operating systems often combine features of PC OS’s, but with other features to support mobile device hardware. For example, the mobile OS may have software to support the use of a SIM tray for telephone and data connection.

Mobile devices that have communication abilities contain two OS’s; one is the main user-facing software and the other is a lower level, proprietary, real-time OS which operates the radio and other pieces of the hardware.

With an explanation of what a mobile OS is out of the way, here is a list of the most common smartwatch operating systems along with some information on each:

  • watchOS
  • Wear OS
  • Tizen
  • Fitbit OS
  • Garmin OS

watchOS

watchOS is a proprietary operating system developed by Apple Inc. It is heavily based on their mobile operating system iOS, which is used by their iPhone and iPod touch lineups. Along with the first Apple Watch, it was released on April 25th of 2015.

watchOS is currently the most popular smartwatch operating system.

From a sales standpoint, it is the most successful wearable operating system in the market today and offers solid performance for anyone interested in the Apple Watch lineup. WatchOS supports a wide variety of apps, which are able to be downloaded from the AppStore.

Since it’s introductory in 2015, watchOS has undergone several upgrades and is currently on its 7th version, which was released in September 2020.

Wear OS

Previously known as, Android Wear, Wear OS, if it wasn’t obvious by now, is a wearable version of the Android OS that is designed specifically for smartwatches and other wearable devices. Wear OS is capable of pairing with smartphones running Android version 6.0 (Marshmallow for the hardcore Droid crowd!) or newer.

Wear OS can also pair with Apple smartphones that are running iOS version 10 or newer, however support is somewhat limited and must connect using Google’s own paring application.

Wear OS is different from Apple’s watchOS in that it is supported by a wide range of smartwatch makers. Some manufacturers include Motorola, Fossil, LG, and Asus to name a few. Wear OS supports a wide variety of apps and integrates the popular Google Assistant into a smartwatch form factor.

However, on the flip side of this, Wear OS has not performed as well as Google would have like as more and more wearable manufactures are developing their own proprietary OS’s.

Tizen

A Linux-based mobile OS, Tizen for Wearables, is developed and mostly used by Samsung. As Linux is an open source software, so is Tizen, however, the software development kit contains some Samsung owned components.

With this being an open-source OS, it can run standalone applications as well as integrated and linked applications, which makes this mobile OS pretty unique. Tizen apps are written in HTML 5 and there are thousands of apps available in the Tizen store.

Currently, Tizen has a relatively small footprint, especially in comparison to Wear OS, and is only able to be paired with a relatively small number of Samsung smartphones. As of now, Tizen is currently on its 4th version of the software, which was introduced in 2018.

Fitbit OS

The Fitbit OS is designed for its own devices and optimized for applications that make sense to have on a fitness tracker. Most of what you’ll find on the Fitbit app store is applications that are focused around health and fitness.

Fitbit decided to develop its own platform to better meet the needs of their target audience, fitness folks. There are plenty of third-party apps revolved around fitness and most Fitbit devices have great battery life.

As of about a year ago, it was announced by Google, that they would be buying Fitbit for $2.1 billion. It will be interesting to see if Fitbit devices in the future are equipped with Wear OS or will the Fitbit OS continue to be developed and used.

Garmin OS

Garmin OS, like the previously mentioned Fitbit OS, is a mobile operating system developed to run on wearables focused on the health and wellness side of things.

The OS features the ability to run apps that allow users to answer calls, listen to tunes, and of course, do fitness stuff.

The OS also supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and will allow users to connect their smartwatches to Android based smartphones to control text and phone calls.

As the name suggests, Garmin wearables will be powered by Garmin OS.

So, Which One?

While watchOS is clearly a cut above the rest in the sales department, there really isn’t a best one overall, in my opinion. In fact, my suggestion would be to choose the smartwatch operating system that matches your smartphone. Having a smartphone and a smartwatch of the same ecosystem will, in most cases, provide the best overall experience. All of them have their place, at least for now.

Do you own a smartwatch or do you have a favorite OS? Feel free to let us know in the comment section!

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