The announcement that Samsung’s latest generation of wearables will use Android Wear raises interesting questions about its software strategy. The Gear 2 smartwatch made the switch to Tizen, which appeared to be Samsung’s strategic direction.

There are several possible reasons for a return to Android:

  1. To maximize interoperability with other smartphones – reversing the Samsung-only ecosystem strategy.
  2. Improvement of Samsung’s relationship with Google, ending the shift to Tizen.
  3. A realization by Samsung as to where the development effort lies – software not hardware.

It is this third reason which is most interesting. Samsung has demonstrated its ability to develop products faster than its competition. However this has largely been in hardware. If the real R&D effort lies in software, then it questions whether Samsung still has the aces in its hand.

Samsung has shown by its stream of Gear smartwatch launches that it is determined to address the market and evolve rapidly to find a winning formula. However the switch to Android Wear suggests that interoperability and off-the-shelf software are more valuable than uniqueness. This will in turn feed through into a vibrant app environment for consumers.

The hardware challenge in turn is moving to industrial design, although this is no superficial engineering task. Round formats (like Moto 360 for example) demand extensive rethinks of display design and manufacture.

Samsung appears to be still feeling its way forward in wearable featuring, however it appears to have decided that interoperability is key to consumers. However, it also means that the playing field is looking very flat. Design is going to be a deciding factor, with the gaps between success and failure far harder to predict or define.