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Samsung’s Updated Smartwatch To Shun Android

The new version of Samsung’s Gear smartwatch will run on Tizen, not Google’s Android operating system, the latest attempt by the South Korean electronics giant to develop more of its own software and services, according to three people familiar with the situation.

Samsung's updated smartwatch

Samsung will unveil the updated Gear watch, and a new HTML5 version of the Tizen operating system, at an event at the Mobile World Congress later this month in Barcelona, the people said. They did not want to be identified because Samsung’s plans are not yet public. Samsung spokeswoman Laurie Spindler declined to comment.

Tizen, which is being pushed heavily by Samsung, is an open-source project that is trying to develop a software platform for smartphones and other connected devices. Launched last year, the effort had a tough start, with some members dropping out. But on Feb. 12, the organization announced 15 new partners, including mobile and Internet giants Sprint, SoftBank and Baidu.

The first version of the Gear smartwatch, launched last year, ran on Android, the Google mobile operating system that has become dominant in the smartphone market. Replacing Android with Tizen for the new version of the Gear gadget suggests that Samsung is not giving up on Tizen despite recent setbacks.

Samsung is also trying to avoid giving Google too much power, as the world’s largest Internet search provider develops a version of Android for wearable devices. Some developers and hardware makers are concerned that this new wearable Android OS may be less open than the original mobile platform, although it’s too early to tell how Google will approach this.

In the smartphone and tablet market, hardware manufacturers typically make devices that run on Android. This puts several Google services, such as search, maps and e-mail, on many gadgets and generates billions of dollars in advertising revenue for the company. The hardware manufacturers are left with the less-profitable task of churning out the actual devices and have struggled to develop their own lucrative software and services.

Samsung wants to avoid the same thing happening in the market for wearable technology. By having its own wearable operating system, the company may be able to generate more revenue from its own software and services.

“Samsung is trying to protect its own long-term interests, not fortifying Google’s Android camp while building their own camp around Tizen,” said Stuart Richens, vice president of digital media at Network Communications, which owns Apartment Finder, a mobile app that helps people track down the best places to live.

The new Gear smartwatch operating system will be an HTML5 version of Tizen, according to two people familiar with the situation. HTML5 is the latest version of a language and broader technology that is used to develop websites and Web-based applications.

This means Samsung may be able to attract more Web developers to develop new apps for its smartwatch. But it is also a risk because, in the past, HTML5 apps have not performed as well as so-called native apps that run on more traditional mobile platforms such as Android and Apple’s iOS, one of the people said.

Apartment Finder has developed apps for Android, iOS and Tizen. The company’s Tizen app is native and is designed to work with smartphones that run on this new operating system.

However, Apartment Finder’s latest Android and iOS apps are Web-based, and Richens said they perform solidly compared with native apps.

“The version of Tizen that powers the Gear will be different,” Richens said. “We could develop a non-native app for Tizen.”

Apartment Finder uses PhoneGap, a tool for building Web-based mobile apps that supports Tizen, he noted.

“If Samsung releases more Tizen devices, that’s potentially a big opportunity,” Richens said. “If they make that move in a big way, we want to make sure we are there early.”

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