Samsung's Gear Fit doesn't run Android or Tizen

Developers can make whatever apps they want for the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, but there's no open SDK for the first Galaxy Gear, two of Samsung's top US mobile executives tell CNET.

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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
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Watch this: Samsung Gear Fit gets its curve on
BARCELONA, Spain -- As if Samsung didn't already have enough operating systems to worry about, it's now adding another. Well, kinda.

The Korean electronics giant loaded its new fitness band, the Gear Fit, with a real-time operating system instead of the Android software used in its phones or the Tizen software used in its new Gear smartwatches.

"It's a much simpler OS, and it helps us keep the battery life three to four days whereas Gear 2 is [about] two days," Seshu Madhavapeddy, senior vice president of product and technology at Samsung Telecommunications America, told CNET.

An RTOS' defining feature is that it can respond with certainty to some kind of event, such as someone pushing the emergency stop button on a factory robot. In practice, an RTOS often is selected because it can run on really limited computing hardware. For Samsung, it allowed the company to incorporate a smaller amount of memory and a less powerful processor than in its Gear 2 watches.

However, there are drawbacks, as well. Because the Gear Fit operating system is pretty basic, there won't be a big ecosystem for apps that go directly on the wearable. Samsung can't release its software development kit to app makers for Gear Fit directly like it will for Gear 2, Madhavapeddy said.

Rather, Samsung has provided an SDK that lets developers customize their Android apps to work with Gear Fit. Developers won't be able to make apps that go directly on the Gear Fit but will be able to make programs for Samsung's Android devices that can send notifications to the fitness band.

Samsung on Monday unveiled its newest flagship phone and three new wearable devices -- the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches and the Gear Fit health band. The company is counting on its new products to help it establish a strong position in the wearables market. It's also using the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo as a way to launch Tizen, the open-source Linux operating system that's an alternative to Android alternative.

As part of the announcement of Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, Samsung said it would open up its software development kit for the wearables to developers. In the case of the first Gear, Samsung closely controlled what apps could be on the Android-based device, rather than opening the gadget up to the entire Google Play universe of apps. Before launching the first device, Samsung sought out app developers and worked with them to create software that would work well with the smartwatch.

Gear Fit
Samsung now will allow any developers to make apps for the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, but it's still keeping app development for the Galaxy Gear invite-only.

"That's the real advantage in Gear 2 versus [Galaxy Gear] -- that now it's an open SDK," Shoneel Kolhatkar, senior director of product planning at Samsung Telecommunications America. "Typically, innovation comes from developers."

Gear 2 will launch with about 100 apps globally, with the first batch curated by Samsung. The company expects many other developers to release apps over the next few months. Samsung will host a developer day on Wednesday at Mobile World Congress to drum up interest in making apps for its devices.

Full CNET coverage of the 2014 Mobile World Congress

Meanwhile, the smartwatches are still Samsung-only, and that's unlikely to change. Madhavapeddy said that's because the smartwatch technology is closely tied to the hardware in Samsung's products.

"There are certain functionalities we have in this product in terms of how they interact with Galaxy that we really can't replicate on a different platform," he said. "If you offer it on other operating systems or platforms, there would be reduced functionality."

For example, two-way voice interaction wouldn't work, nor would the smart relay feature that allows the phone to open a full message when a notification arrives on the Gear.

Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo work with 17 Samsung devices. Gear Fit works with 20, with the extra three coming from Samsung's Tab 3 tablet series.

Gear Fit also can be used as a standalone device for health features. However, features such as notifications won't work unless the fitness band is connected to a Samsung mobile device.

Samsung Gear Fit, hands-on (pictures)

See all photos
-Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

Correction at 3:15 a.m. PT February 26: Although developers cannot create apps that go directly on the Gear Fit, Samsung released an SDK that will allow Android apps to interact with Gear Fit. The story previously stated there would be no Gear Fit SDK.