How Samsung overtook the Apple Watch, with a little help from Google

Samsung’s BioActive chip enabled its smartwatch to have more sensors and better battery life than the market-leading Apple Watch. Yet Apple was a pioneer in bringing advanced health technologies to the wrist, with breakthroughs like the first FDA-approved ECG (electrocardiogram) sensor on a watch in 2018. .

ZDNet caught up with Taejong Jay Yang, Head of Samsung’s Research and Development Team for Health, to discuss how Samsung was able to get so far and so fast in smartwatches and health tracking. The latter points out that, for years, Samsung has put a lot of effort into improving sleep tracking. Then it took a big step into health with the new 3-in-1 sensor unveiled in the Galaxy Watch 4, its first device to switch from Samsung’s Tizen software to Google’s Wear OS.

Google and Samsung have both struggled to keep up with the Apple Watch in recent years, but the tide could be starting to turn.

Apple dominates, Samsung progresses

The Apple Watch still dominates the smartwatch market, with 36% market share, while Samsung is a respectable second, a distant second, with 10%, according to Counterpoint Research. But, in the first quarter of 2022, Samsung increased its market share by more than 20% compared to the previous year, while that of Apple stagnated.

One of the reasons for Samsung’s progress could be that its latest wearable technology, the Galaxy Watch 4, measures more aspects of health and has features that the Apple Watch does not yet include.

Meanwhile, the two companies are on track to launch their next-gen devices over the next two months – the Galaxy Watch 5 announcement is expected at the Samsung Unpacked event and the Apple Watch Series 8 at the Apple’s annual keynote in September.

Sleep, Samsung’s first big step

If we go back to 2014 and the first Galaxy Gear connected watch, Samsung was already working on sleep tracking. In 2018, the Galaxy Watch tracked sleep cycles and REM sleep, two years before the official arrival of sleep tracking on the Apple Watch, and four years before the introduction of sleep cycles in WatchOS 9, which is coming. officially this fall.

In 2020, Samsung’s connected watch already introduced sleep scores and automatic information on the sleep habits of its user. The following year, it offered monitoring of your blood oxygenation levels while you sleep, more advanced sleep scores and snoring detection.

But it was in 2022 that she made the biggest leap. Samsung’s latest watch now includes free sleep coaching, based on artificial intelligence giving advice and checklists to help improve its quality. This feature offers a lot of content. In particular, it presents eight animals to characterize your sleep and make the interpretation of this data more playful.

“We have made a lot of progress in sleep technology,” argues Taejong Jay Yang.

BioActive chip: Samsung’s breakthrough

But where Samsung has made the most progress is with the launch of the 3-in-1 BioActive sensor, last August, in the Galaxy Watch 4. Combining optical heart rate, electrical heart rate and analysis of bioelectrical impedance in a single chip, the BioActive sensor not only detects irregular heartbeats and measures blood oxygen levels, but it can also check blood pressure and measure body composition. These last two features were integrated into Samsung’s device before arriving on the Apple Watch.

“One of the sensors in the BioActive is called BIA, and it measures body composition. It measures muscle mass and body fat,” says Taejong Jay Yang. “This technology did not exist a few years ago. You had to go to the gym and hold some sort of handgrip for 30 seconds to a minute to measure your body composition. Now it sits on your wrist and you can measure it whenever you want. »

BioActive also allows people to check heart rate variability continuously, which the Apple Watch does not yet do. While BioActive pioneered these new features, how they were implemented was also key.

“We developed this BioActive chip that combines multiple sensors into one, making it more effective and efficient,” says Taejong Jay Yang. “And you have a longer battery because it’s energy efficient. »

The Apple Watch Series 7 can easily last 24 hours on a full charge, but the Galaxy Watch 4 lasts about 50% longer, or a day and a half.

The next sensors

Samsung’s teaming up with Google in wearables and now relying on the Wear OS platform for software seems to have paved the way for Samsung’s health and wearables team to dedicate its energy and resources to hardware and sensor design – and not just for smartwatches.

“We are looking at other form factors (for the sensors). Headphones are one of them. We are also studying other types of devices,” says Taejong Jay Yang. “When these other devices are combined and connected, then we can use the most appropriate device and leverage that capability across different devices. »

It remains to be seen whether all these devices are wearables or not. But it’s clear that Samsung thinks it’s finally found its way to success in smartwatches, and there’s still a lot of work to do. Of course, there’s always the issue of blood sugar monitoring – which not only concerns the 400 million people with diabetes worldwide, but could also help many others better understand and regulate their diets.

“We are investing heavily in the development of other biometric elements. We will prioritize them based on consumer needs and impact,” the manager adds.

More smartwatches to come

Both the Galaxy Watch 5 and Apple Watch Series 8 are rumored to include a Pro model in their lineup. These models could be sturdier versions or feature more premium materials. But it is also possible that they are the first models to have the most advanced features and sensors.

Whatever happens with the Pro models, these two new devices are likely to continue the trend of putting health tracking, which previously cost a fortune and required tying up healthcare equipment and personnel, into devices of a few hundred. euros who have the ability to constantly monitor your condition.

Also keep in mind that the Apple Watch does not work with Android phones, and the Galaxy Watch does not work with the iPhone. Thus, this race for sensors between the two manufacturers will not encourage users to switch from one ecosystem to another. But this race for the best features and the most advanced sensors helps both companies move forward, which also benefits users.


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