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What is the difference between One UI and Tizen?

an onion tizen hero

If you’re using Samsung products, especially the company’s smartwatches, two names you’ve probably seen are ‘Tizen’ and ‘One UI’. Together they are responsible for Galaxy smartwatch software, but what’s the difference? And why does your watch need both?

If you dive into the “About Watch”

; section of the Settings menu on your Galaxy watch, the version numbers for both One UI and Tizen will be displayed. Each of these software layers plays an important role. Let’s see what they all do.

What is Tizen?

Tizen is similar to Android in that it is an open source operating system based on Linux. The first version of Tizen came out in 2012, but was only available on a real consumer device like the Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch in 2014.

There are many similarities between Android and Tizen. Both operating systems receive firmware updates, can be used on a wide variety of device types, and are free for developers to build apps and experiences.

Tizen 2.2 Beta
Tizen on a smartphone Wikipedia

Since Tizen is an open-source operating system, any manufacturer can use it for their devices. Unlike Android, which is on devices from dozens of manufacturers, Tizen is mainly used by one manufacturer: Samsung.

Samsung originally planned to use Tizen on smartphones and tablets. The company launched a handful of Tizen phones, but over time that plan was abandoned and the operating system (OS) is used almost exclusively for Samsung’s wearables and smart TVs.

Tizen smart TV
Tizen on a smart TV Samsung

As an operating system, Tizen is in part only as useful as the apps it can run. On a Samsung device with Tizen, apps can be downloaded from the Galaxy Apps store. Apps must be built specifically to make Tizen available on Tizen devices.

What is one user interface?

The one user interface is the Samsung overlay responsible for the actual one look of the software. On a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, One UI lives on top of Android, and on a Galaxy smartwatch, One UI lives on top of Tizen.

One UI smartphone
One user interface on the Galaxy S20 Wikipedia

If we think of Tizen or Android as a canvas, you can think of One UI as the paint. The operating system is responsible for the core functionality, while the overlay adjusts how it all looks. The operating system can exist without an overlay, but the overlay cannot exist without an operating system.

One user interface is Samsung’s third major software overlay. Early Samsung Android devices included a software overlay called ‘TouchWiz’, which was later updated and referred to simply as ‘Samsung Experience’. In 2019 it was redesigned and renamed to ‘One UI’.

tizen versus one onion
Tizen for one user interface (left) / Tizen with one user interface (right) Samsung

One thing that’s different about One UI compared to previous overlays is that it’s available on smartwatches. Early Samsung smartwatches ran pure Tizen without any overlay. In 2019, Samsung also added One UI to smartwatches.

How do Tizen and One UI work together?

As mentioned earlier, One UI can only exist on top of an operating system. That operating system is Android (phones and tablets) or Tizen (smartwatches).

As an example, let’s take a look at Samsung Galaxy smartwatches. When a notification appears on your watch, Tizen takes care of the communication between your phone and watch. One user interface is responsible for the appearance of the notification.

Tizen and One UI co-exist on Galaxy smartwatches, but they are also separated. Each software layer can be updated independently of the others. If you look in the “About Watch” software section, you will see that each has its own version number.

one onion and tizen information

Tizen updates are typically larger and include important features, while One UI updates offer visual tweaks and smaller improvements (there are some exceptions to this rule.). While they can be updated individually, it is common for Tizen and One UI updates to be bundled.

At the end of the day, both Tizen and One UI have a lot of features, but bringing them together creates a great software experience.

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