RTOS or real-time operating systems have been around for a long time. It has been powering a number of devices and technologies such as pacemakers, your car’s anti-lock braking system, airline ticket booking platforms, and even RADAR for quite some time.
However, most consumers only recently became curious about RTOS when OnePlus decided to forego digging GoogleWearOS and opted for RTOS or FreeRTOS in their first smartwatch – the OnePlus watch.
Why are brands using RTOS for smartwatches and fitness bands?
RTOS has many different uses that differ from device to device. How it is configured, the type of RTOS provided – hard real-time, soft real-time, or soft real-time – depends on the purpose for which it is being used. Obviously, the RTOS used on an aircraft carrier is not the same as the one used on your new smartwatch.
Technically, smartwatches use FreeRTOS. It is a kind of real-time operating system that is lightweight and can run limited applications on a single chipset and has limited memory. In a business sense, RTOS can get better performance and battery life due to its limited hardware requirements and also save money on bill of materials.
Another advantage is that the money saved on chipsets can be used for better display quality. This is one of the reasons why we can now get smartwatches with high quality AMOLED displays and a battery life of over seven days at affordable prices.
Also note that FreeRTOS is nothing new in the portable space. We have already seen brands like AmazeFit, Samsung (in the Galaxy Fit line of smartbands) and others have launched devices in the past. Brands like Xiaomi Realme also use their own FreeRTOS-based operating system to power their affordable smartwatch models.
And that is exactly what makes RTOS or FreeRTOS the most popular smartwatch operating system among Android users. In fact, few of the current / new smartwatches on the market run on Google’s WearOS.
Why is it called Real Time OS?
This platform is designed for time-bound apps where data needs to be processed without buffers / delays. This simply means that processing time is key in RTOS and that processing must be done with very little memory and limited hardware resources.
Why Are Wearable Brands Using RTOS? For an inexpensive smartwatch or fitness band where the margins are low due to stiff competition, RTOS is the right platform to get a fast device that uses less battery without major chipset costs.
Is FreeRTOS better than Google’s WearOS?
Google’s portable operating system has not been as successful as the Android operating system for smartphones. Google started with Android Wear and later renamed it WearOS. But very few models with WearOS are actually affordable and at the same time make all models look the same.
With FreeRTOS, brands get more customization options, they can have their own user interface, and offer their own companion apps. This means that using a OnePlus watch is different from using an AmazeFit or Xiaomi watch. Also, with limited hardware costs, brands can offer features that are more important to users – custom user interface, better battery life, faster performance, and good display quality.
But there are also disadvantages. FreeRTOS is nowhere near the range of apps that can be found on WearOS. When you use a smartwatch with FreeRTOS, you’re completely at the mercy of the brand’s companion app and their app store. You only have a limited selection of apps, watch faces, and other customizations. On the other hand, Google gives you the freedom to download apps or even look at faces that you want.
So what’s better? If all you need is a smartwatch to monitor health, view notifications, and do other everyday tasks while getting good battery life, FreeRTOS works. However, if you want more flexibility with apps and reliability with software upgrades, WearOS might be better for you. And if you only care about the low price of the smartwatch, then go for what you think has a better display, better battery life and better design. This is because almost all smartwatches for Android users have similar features.