Proprietary operating systems dominate wearable OS market

A number of sports, fitness, and wellness trackers are becoming more complex and already require more capable hardware. This is being provided by wearable operating systems (OSs), which aid in programming the device and improving performance, safety, and security.

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Many of these OSs are becoming more general purpose, similar to those found in smartwatches, as the level of functionality is increasing. Simple sports, fitness, and wellness trackers that only track one metric, for example, heart rate, require a real-time OS that completes the highest priority task first.

These OSs can be developed by the device vendor, or leveraged from another OS, such as Google’s Wear OS or the open-source Linux OS.

Analyst firm ABI Research forecasts that sports, fitness, and wellness trackers will be dominated by Linux and proprietary OSs between 2018 and 2023, making up 53% and 38% of the market respectively in 2018, with Android-based OSs completing the lineup.

“With sports, fitness, and wellness trackers including devices such as activity trackers, heart rate monitors, and pedometers, the OS market is likely to remain very varied,” said Stephanie Lawrence, research analyst at ABI Research.

“Smarter devices, such as activity trackers that record numerous metrics, including those found in other more specific devices (i.e. heart rate and number of steps), require a more complex OS in order to power the increased number of features.”

For devices with one major feature or function, such as heart rate monitors, a real-time OS is required. These devices are critical systems that have a specific action that must be completed within a certain amount of time to give a quick, predictable response.

A real-time OS completes the highest priority task fist, pausing any secondary tasks, ensuring that, in this case, the user’s heart rate is continuously monitored.

The type of device that is being developed must be taken into consideration when looking into an OS. Sports, fitness, and wellness tracker vendors also need to determine whether to develop a proprietary OS that will function accurately with the device, leverage a current OS that will have high functionality and app availability, or adapt an open-source OS that will offer a much cheaper alternative.

Companies such as Google provide the Android-based Wear OS, allowing wearable vendors to offer a device with a recognizable user interface, a large library of apps, and compatibility with various smartphones, both Android and non-Android such as Apple. OSs such as Wear OS are used to power more complex devices that have many features.

An increasing number of sports, fitness, and wellness tracker vendors are developing their own OSs, including Fitbit and Garmin, as it allows the company to ensure that the OS works completely with the device from start to finish, supporting all of the features, extending the battery life, and allowing for connection to various smartphones on different OSs.

Proprietary OSs can be general purpose or real-time depending on the requirements of the device. As sports, fitness, and wellness devices do not require a large library of apps, a proprietary OS, or leveraging a free open-source OS, is often the best way to go as it allows the device and the OS to be built in-line with each other.

“A wearable OS is an important aspect to consider when designing and developing a sport, fitness, and wellness tracker, as the type of device being made will determine what type of OS will be required,” said Lawrence. “The most important considerations for vendors are: what type of OS is required and which, if any, other devices need to interoperate.”

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