one ui tizen hero

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

Diving into the “About Watch” section of the Settings menu on your Galaxy watch will reveal version numbers for both One UI and Tizen. Each of these software layers is playing an important role. Let’s take a look at what each one does.

What Is Tizen?

Tizen is similar to Android in that it’s an open-source operating system based on Linux. The first version of Tizen was released in 2012, but it wasn’t available on a true consumer device until 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 multitude of different 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 its devices. However, unlike Android, which is on devices by dozens of manufacturers, Tizen is primarily used by just one: 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 nearly exclusively used for Samsung’s wearables and smart TVs.

Tizen smart TV
Tizen on a Smart TV Samsung

As an OS, Tizen is partially 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 for Tizen to be available on Tizen devices.

What Is One UI?

One UI is Samsung’s overlay that’s responsible for the actual 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 UI on a 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 customizes how it all looks. The OS can exist without an overlay, but the overlay can’t exist without an OS.

One UI is Samsung’s third major software overlay. Early Samsung Android devices included a software overlay called “TouchWiz,” which was later revamped and called simply “Samsung Experience.” In 2019, it was redesigned again and the name was changed to “One UI.”

tizen vs one ui
Tizen before One UI (left) / Tizen with One UI (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 added One UI to smartwatches as well.

How Do Tizen and One UI Work Together?

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

Let’s look at Samsung Galaxy smartwatches as an example. When a notification appears on your watch, Tizen is what enables that communication between your phone and watch. One UI is responsible for the appearance of the notification.

Tizen and One UI exist together on Galaxy smartwatches, but they’re separate as well. Each software layer can be updated independently of the other. If you look in the “About Watch” software section, you’ll see that each has its own version number.

one ui and tizen information

Tizen updates are typically larger and will include major features, whereas One UI updates bring visual tweaks and smaller enhancements (There are some exceptions to this rule.). While they can be updated separately, it’s common for Tizen and One UI updates to be bundled together.

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

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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