Not the Garmin 925XT – It’s the SWIM
The recent (May 2015) partnership announcement between MIO Global and Garmin brought Optical HR into the first Garmin Forerunner GPS watch – the Forerunner 225. This is BAD news for the likes of Epson, adidas and TomTom who, perhaps, have had recent sales buoyed by their generally good optical HR offerings – I suspect (but don’t know) that both adidas and Epson have a triathlon watch in the offing and also that TomTom might further improve their existing triathlon offering.
The sports GPS watch world *IS* going optical. Where does that leave us with the future incarnations of the Garmin Forerunner 920XT and the future incarnations of the FENIX3 by the same token? It’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. It’s also a question of ‘what else will be added’.
Read this article as equally applying for a FENIX4.
The second half of 2015 is going to be an exciting year for runners and triathletes who love their gadgets or reading about somebody else’s. I’m pretty sure there will be a slew of products. Starting with the Garmin Forerunner 630 sometime soon (the 2-year cycle and Garmin’s quarterly reporting cycle dictates one is due around September/October 2015). There might be a Garmin 925XT/930XT, a FENIX4 and there might be new TomTom MULTISPORTs, adidas SMART RUN / SMART TRI, and an Epson RUNSENSE / TRISENSE. And that’s ignoring the possibility of a Suunto AMBIT 4 as soon as July 2015 !
A review of the Garmin Forerunner 925XT / 930XT requires one thing. A watch! So, just for the avoidance of doubt: I have not got one; it may or may not exist; it may or may not be planned; no-one at Garmin has told me about one as they are forbidden to release market sensitive information before the financial markets. External reviewers close to Garmin and other suppliers are probably legally restricted by Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) for the same reason.
So please read on if you want to. This is just an opinion piece and a bit of fun.
Having said that I predict there will be a successor to the Garmin Forerunner 920XT on general release in Spring 2016 – announced sooner.
I think what you are about to read will be broadly correct. You might want to check back to a similar piece I wrote when we triathletes owned 910XTs and just dreamed of the 920XT. (Here) are my pre-announcement opinions of the 920XT – and you might also want to consider my opinions of the Garmin Forerunner 625 / 630 runner’s watch – or not!
This article/opinion piece IS NOT SOLELY about whether Garmin will introduce optical HR to the 920XT – it just starts out that way and then moves on.
Garmin have got a whopping stockpile of cash, some $18bn I believe, they are a tech-focused company and will only prosper with continued investment in R&D in new products. They simply HAVE TO innovate in the outdoors and fitness and wearables markets to survive and prosper. It’s their raison d’être (yes I do own a thesaurus).
September 2014 marked the release of the Forerunner 920XT and the FENIX3 came soon after in January 2015. The FENIX3 came out a mere 12 months after the FENIX2.
Whilst the Forerunner 225, and the MIO Global partnership that underpins that, was announced in May 2015 the agreement would have been signed MANY months previously – at least as far back as early 2014. Would all that time have been spent developing one product? (Forerunner 225) You know the answer!
Do stock markets prefer companies to make money NOW or ‘a bit later in the future’. You know the answer!
Operating income (profit) is growing in Garmin’s fitness product areas. Business rationale would want to continue that growth.
Fitness Sector Gives More Profit Year On Year
Is implementing optical HR (from a pre-built external unit by MIO) really THAT difficult? Any more so than integrating WIFI or BTLE capability? I wouldn’t have thought so.
So the 2-year product cycle would dictate a 925XT / 930XT announcement in September 2016. However look at the FENIX2/3 release dates – a year apart like the Suunto AMBIT2/3 release dates funnily enough. Look at the Forerunner 225 incorporating optical HR. Look at the need to leverage the MIO Global partnership. Look at the financial imperative from investors and that 16 month wait might become shortened somewhat.
Look at this chart, respectively showing 620, FENIX2 and 920XT announcement dates. Consider also the recent share price slide (Strength of US$?). Not sure how that relates to the market/sector but I think not too well. NEW PRODUCT REVENUES NEEDED!!
Shows the financial imperative to release new products ASAP
Garmin.com Quote from earnings call Q1.2015 (http://www8.garmin.com/aboutGarmin/invRelations/reports/Q12015_Earnings_Call_Transcript.pdf) : “Fitness has been an exciting growth driver for our business in recent quarters and we believe there are more opportunities to capture. We are well-positioned with our current product breadth and depth, and will continue to invest for future growth and expansion.”
Also from the same Garmin.com source:
“Beginning with the fitness segment, revenue grew 31% on a year-over-year basis with strong contributions from activity trackers, multisport and cycling products. We delivered gross and operating margins of 63% and 26% respectively. Operating margin was lower on a year-over-year basis, reflecting an increase in R&D and advertising investments during the quarter, as planned. As you are aware, the fitness market is highly competitive, and thus requires additional R&D investments in order to bring innovations to market faster.”
Arguments against an impending release/announcement:
- A triathlon watch is feature-full and complex. It took 3 years to get from the 910XT to the 920XT. Why only one year to the 925XT/930XT?
- Garmin may be nervous about optical HR. Indeed they may have tried themselves and failed – hence having to partner with MIO. As a result they might approach this technology with caution with just the running watches as a testbed (One of dcrainmaker’s comments said a similar thing). Companies really do want to sell products and not continually have to replace them for free!
- Optical technology has its problems. These problems will be magnified in water. Garmin won’t want products that don’t always work and create bad feelings in the user base – any more than ‘necessary’.
- There are still products like the EPIX to hit the streets (mountains!).
- Maybe there really hasn’t been enough time for a limited R&D team to implement new technology?
- Personally I would discount most of these arguments. Money talks. Triathlon and Running are globally growing pastimes/sports. It’s a big world. It’s a lot of money.
Products tend to come out ‘a bit’ before Christmas or ‘a bit’ before the outdoor sporty season gets underway in the Northern Hemisphere. So we are looking at September 2015 or soon after January 1st.
My prediction is for an announcement in Q1.2016 with a Spring 2016 general release
Form factor is what a product looks like – its ‘shape’. We know that the Forerunner Multisport watches are rectangular/square and that the and FENIX range are circular. That won’t change.
This great clickable image from zitasport.com shows progression of the various watches over time – needs the 225 and Approach adding please Javier.
You can see from the 310XT and 910XT that the newer 920XT product was notably different in appearance whilst still remaining a rectangular-display. So do we get a very similar form factor with the 925XT (compare the Forerunner 225 to the visually similar Forerunner 220) OR do we get a more noticeable change as we have done so far through all the multisport iterations?
My prediction for the Forerunner 925 / 930’s FORM would be that it would be a natural progression, different to the 920XT but more similar to the 920XT than the 920XT was to the 910XT. So we are still left with:
It will continue to be a lightweight, rectangular-display GPS watch with 6 buttons, a colour screen and optical HR to the rear. It will be visually similar to the 920XT.
Nothing too controversial there, I think.
The 620 and 920 were treated with aesthetic disdain by many people on the various forums. That disdain boils down to the colour scheme! I would imagine that Garmin have learnt their lesson over those 2 or so years of criticism and would at least look towards something more monochromatic like the Epix the Fenix3 or the 910XT – all of which, IMHO, are pleasing to my eye.
Then again the May 2015-announced Forerunner 225 (image to the right) shows a strong similarity to the 220 so maybe the 925 / 930 will be more like either the 920XT? that would be easier to accomplish and speed up development.
They may also learn a trick or two from Apple and Suunto with a later introduction of premium-aesthetic forms over summer 2016. Perhaps not a gold-plated model (Apple Watch), that would be silly, but something could be done with interchangeable straps or dedicated IQ watch faces to better enable it to be a day-to-day watch for the masses.
Better colour options to enable it to be a better day-to-day watch and a bit chunkier to accommodate the optical HR unit
Although now I’m not so sure. I was just asked to contribute to a POLAR survey about new colours for the beautiful-as-it-is V800. Colours?! maybe I’m out of touch?
CONNECTIVITY and COMMUNICATIONS
More of the same too here I’m afraid. It will still be ANT+ only for sensor support. It will not support BTLE sensors directly (without the aid of a BRIDGE). It will still allow uploads/comms through both WIFI and BLUETOOTH over your home network and/or to your smartphone. You will also get GLONASS just like the FENIX3 and 920XT.
Sorry, it’s just the existing GLONASS+GPS and BTLE(out) and ANT+ that you’ll get.
THE SCREEN + ALERTS
The multisport glass screens have always felt great to me. This was probably all part of making it creditably super-light. Garmin will want to continue with the 920’s day-to-day watch ability. It might have a touch screen BUT I think it will be a better, tougher glass with much better screen display with better colours and resolution. It will need the resolution and vibrancy to LOOK like a great day-to-day watch (when a decent IQ watch face is downloaded) and this is certainly possible as we have seen with the Apple Watch and even the Samsung Gear Fit.
A noticeably better, vibrant and tougher screen with slightly improved resolution
Perhaps too, like the Apple Watch, innovation might come through a less expected route such as an EVEN better screen than I’ve imagined that can allow different kinds of taps and gestures (eg a tap vs. a firm press). Perhaps, like the Apple Watch, different levels and types of alerts will be felt with different kinds of vibrations or heard with different kinds of audible tones. Perhaps? Perhaps not? I think ‘perhaps NOT is most likely.
I’ve mentioned IQ a few ties. This is Garmin’s APP STORE. You can download lots of clever stuff, including stuff that changes the display. IQ will bring whatever IQ will bring and that will all come to the 930XT / 925XT.
IQ WILL be supported by the 925XT / 930XT.
I don’t profess to know or care much about the chip that is inside the device. There will be a better one inside (the chipset in a 920XT is: Media Tek MT3333). A better one will make the 925XT / 930XT faster than ever and able to cope with some of the rigours that errant IQ apps may place on the device as well as handling the demands of the optical HR unit – all of which will then slow it down!
Will be better (Earth-shattering predictions abound).
Well the chest strap for the 925XT / 930XT is already released. Here’s a picture and (here) is a bit more information on the straps.
Just to be clear though. It’s just a new strap and new product codes exist, for example, for the 920XT which allow you to purchase the strap bundled with a 920XT. It’s not really, therefore, ear-marked specifically for an impending 630 or 925XT or 930XT announcement. You can buy one in the Garmin store, I’ve got one. AFAIK It’s the same HRM-RUN pod that you get with the existing 620 but on a new strap (or you can buy the new strap with the cheaper HRM3 pod instead – shown above).
Whether this strap addresses the HR spike and dropouts that we get with ALL VENDOR’S straps, I don’t know. It could just be a better performing strap that we are looking at rather than one which helps new functionality. Indeed I believe that to be the case.
The strap will not NEED to ship with the 925XT / 930XT as it will have optical HR. There will of course be an option to turn off optical HR (saves battery power) and use a chest strap. Also the chest strap will almost certainly be required to continue to produce the running dynamics data. I don’t think it will be possible to produce running dynamics (other than cadence) from the watch unit itself as the wrist is the wrong position for this. It would have to be on the feet or chest.
Garmin 225 REAR
Oh and here’s a picture of the optical HR unit (to the right) that will be in the 925XT / 930XT!! It already exists on the 225. It has a circular rubber seal to stop water and light ingress to the sensor area. As you can see there are 2x LEDs.
Actually this might be changed to have more multicoloured LEDs, more LEDs and/or more sensors – all of which might improve accuracy. This would be a good move for the top-end devices in the Forerunner ranges. But I think not. This is an image of what you will get.
The new strap already exists for the 925XT / 930XT and the optical HR unti will probably be very similar to that in the 225 (and 630).
THE PODs – HR PODs and OTHER PODs
Have a look at cycling dynamics that came with the bike computer that use the GARMIN VECTOR power-meter pedals.
Cycling Dynamic metrics were introduced in two tranches.
We have one set of running metrics already (Vertical Oscillation, Ground Contact Time, Cadence) perhaps there is another tranche waiting to be released onto the running world?
I know for sure that other vendors are actively pursuing new technique metrics for running eg RUNTEQ and AMBIOTEX.
There may be new RUNNING DYNAMICS metrics supplied by an updated HRM-RUN2 pod.
Actually, other sensors could also be developed as a new footpod. But realistically I don’t think that Garmin will want yet another footpod to sell along with a HRM pod.
Then again with cadence being supplied within the watch/HRM-RUN why not introduce a pod that can do something else a bit cleverer? (eg http://www.runteq.com)
Turning briefly to the current 920XT, it is a glaring omission that Heart Rate cannot be recorded underwater like with Polar and Suunto. This HAS to be addressed by either inaccurate and more error-prone wrist-based optical HR straps AND/OR by data caching on the chest strap/pod. Providing the additional option of a caching HRM-RUN pod will be the best option.
Another area of improvement for the POD (which the new strap may have been designed to support) is super-accurate HR readings. I mentioned earlier about AMBIOTEX, they are in beta for a super accurate HR pod which they claim is able to estimate Lactate Threshold Heart Rates (LTHR). Such hardware capability could feed though into a watch that is able to automatically set ‘correct’ heart rate training zones.
Maybe the extra sensors that are clearly on the new HRM strap can be used by a new pod for even more accurate readings? I hope that sort of thing will be introduced but I just don’t think it will.
Manual favouring of footpod speed was removed in the 920XT. This should be re-incorporated in the 930XT.
To keep triathletes/swimmers happy I hope that a new HR pod will cache data but I can’t see it happening as optical HR will be available instead. The new strap will improve reliability but there will be no increased granularity/accuracy per se.
New metrics could be added and yes I know that there are plenty-enough already. You can get new ones through IQ but some may be introduced through improvements to RUNNING DYNAMICS, especially if there is a new pod (either HRM pod or foot pod).
Having said that METMAX or EPOC may be introduced as they are used extensively by the partner-company of Garmin – FIRSTBEAT. As you can see, below, Suunto already do this sort of thing to a degree.
The 930XT/925XT will be integrated through HRV enablement into FRISTBEAT ATHLETE software.
Segments? Just as on-device segments have been added to the Edge 810 and Edge 100 cycling computers then so must they be added on running and triathlon watches – just a notification of the start of a favourite segment would be a nod in the right direction.
Other running watches, such as the Epson SF-810, also handle laps within splits (or laps within longer intervals eg 1km autolap within 2×20′ threshold runs). These should be added as well to the 920XT just to give a more complete product offering.
Laps based are both GPS position and time are also needed with the latter much less likely to be added (alerts can be set by time to have a similar effect).
Segments support may be added and laps within intervals should be added. Laps based on position could be added.
However I suspect that the continued innovation in this area will see new methods of displaying existing metrics. Thus the dials that are already available for the running dynamics (and similar ones on the golfing watch, the Approach) will also be avaialble for selected other measures – like on the newly released Forerunner 225 for HR data.
WEIGHT& BATTERY LIFE
Battery life will be improved to accommodate ultra-runners.
A more powerful battery will be necessary to fuel the optical HR and any upgraded processor/GPS chip or higher resolution screen. We have seen the improvements in battery life that are possible with newer models from Garmin as well as the other manufacturers. However I’m not sure that power saving technology or battery technology has improved that much since the 920XT. So I would imagine any gains in this area will be consumed by the optical HR and perhaps also by the fancy new dial-display metrics. However where more battery capacity is REALLY required then more innovative solutions are possible by, for example, incorporating elements of the battery in the strap – I believe the Microsoft BAND does this, it certainly incorporates its optical HR sensor into the strap.
The 920XT is light, the 620 is super-light and the VivoActive is lighter still. I can’t see the 920XT getting lighter. It might get a bit heavier to accommodate a bigger battery and/or the optical HR unit. the optical unit will be on the back and the battery inside the watch!
It will be a heavier
Some more enhanced navigation maybe introduced but then this starts to stray the 930XT in the direction of the FENIX3 and EPIX. I recently followed a 50 mile off-road MTB route down and the existing ‘mapping’ that enabled me to follow a pre-determined course was fine. I can’t see that many more currently unmet needs in this respect existing.
Limited token or aesthetic navigational improvements may be introduced, not ‘proper’ maps.
This feature will carry over from the 920XT.
Standard ‘TEXT replies to SMS messages’ or ‘TEXT replies to unanswered calls’ features could be implemented as with many activity/smart bands but existing functionality is pretty much where it needs to be for the 925XT/930XT in this respect.
It will have bluetooth, smartphone notifications
Yes, as with the 920XT.
Possible unseen hardware improvements might make the existing tracker better for example eliminating the “hundreds of steps I do” when driving!
It will be an activity tracker.
SWIM/BIKE – MULTISPOPRT
Some form of token nod could be given to improve canoeing/paddling or rowing or indoor machine compatibility but I ‘m not too fussed about that and neither would be most users.
Allowing manual laps within a multisport could be added, allowing more legs per multisport session could be added. But I’m not convinced too much tinkering will be done here which is a shame.
Nothing earth shattering either outside of triathlon or with what currently constitutes a triathlon/duathlon profile
I’m really struggling to see what can be added here that can be handled on a small screen. Di2 integration is already there for example. ‘Proper’ mapping and ‘proper’ segment functionality like the Edge 1000 will be very hard to do well on a small screen.
Perhaps some form of better handling of bike-specific sensors in the sensor pools and linking them to specific bikes or profiles is possible? But I’m clutching at straws here.
No exciting new bike functionality.
SWIM SPECIFIC FUNCTIONALITY
Much improvement here is possible and this could be the selling point of the watch alongside the optical HR.
- Enabling of HR whilst in pool mode (already exists in openwater on the 920XT)
- Support of optical HR of course
- Support of a caching HR pod is possible but less likely given the optical HR
- Optical HR will not be HRV -ready. This will still mean that the link to FIRSTBEAT ATHLETE is only for duathlon training and not triathlon training. Which is a bit silly really. UNLESS a caching pod is introduced, this is the only way in the short term to enable HRV in swimming.
- Support of swim workouts – Yes
- Swim Metronome – Possible but No
This is all fine of course but I suspect not that attractive to many people to make them upgrade from the 920XT.
Significant swim improvements
A NEW RANGE?
The Garmin multisport position is confused. The Epix, Vivoactive and Fenix3 all do similar things. In some cases identical things and you can even use the 620 for a duathlon. The vivoactive is triathlon-light and the Epix is triathlon + mapping adventure. The Fenix and 920XT are essentially the same from a triathlon perspective but in a different aesthetic form.
There could be scope for a 925XT and a 930XT. The former being pretty much as-is for the 920XT but with the addition of Optical HR. Then the 930XT has all the other minor enhancements and an improved swim offering. The pen pushers might see two lots of revenues there but I don’t think swim improvements alone will tempt many to upgrade whereas optical HR might…many women for example. A caching HR pod for swimming might make me upgrade but I suspect I am in a very small minority.
Continued confusion with the Epix/FENIX/VivoActive ranges but just one upgrade to the 920XT itself
You can see the trend in the price of the 920XT since launch in the UK.
Clearly this shows the price willing to be paid by early adopters for the initial limited production units available outside the USA. Actually they would probably have paid more. But there obviously, initially, weren’t too many units and hence the fairly rapid decline by >20% over 3-4 months as more units got to the market.
It is clear that the 930XT will be initially priced around £430 with HRM (for running dynamics and as an option).
Prices may, perhaps, even start as high as £450 w/HRM.
And then you would be right to ask how such a price is justified? And how is it justified on the rather limited expansion in the number of features I’ve suggested here, albeit with a major new hardware revamp with the optical HR. Good questions indeed.
So IMHO Garmin NEED to offer something MORE than what is above.
I’ve mentioned these differentiators before in other places. My little pet ‘wants’ really. Also with so many features in an already feature packed watch it’s hard to see where materially new differentiators will come from.
1. Power When Running
An ANT+ power sensor FOR RUNNING already exists with STRYD and it ‘sort of’ works if the watch is put in bike mode so that it can receive generic power data. STRYD is to be imminently launched (written May 2015). Should that go well I suspect that Garmin might, just might, include ANT+ POWER SENSOR support. That might sound trivial but don’t forget that all the follow-on power-running metrics need to be added and also then potentially reported on in Garmin Connect. That is a considerable task to merely ‘support’ a 3rd party product.
Maybe the 3rd party manufacturer (STRYD) could implement functionality through IQ?
However should Garmin ever buy such a company then we are talking a different ball game totally and there would be full integration throughout the top end of all running related products.
There won’t be direct ANT+ Power Running Support. Some form of RUN+POWER enablement through IQ may happen.
2. Tests and Recovery Metrics
Fitness protocols or tests could be included with the 930XT / 925XT. Perhaps waking HRV (an IQ app already exists for this), perhaps tests that determine LTHR or that further utilise or refine HR zones through the existing VO2max estimates or through LTHR estimates.
Tests like Polar’s JUMP test could be incorporated as a measure of recovery.
Perhaps just a little more insight than the current ‘RECOVERY TIME 36 HOURS’, or similar, message. Perhaps something like Polar’s slightly more insightful data.
There might be scope for including additional in-exercise recovery metrics. Again, these sorts of things are quite possible with HRV-enablement (which the 930XT WILL have, like the 920XT). So, for example, a 10x 2minute interval session could be specified so that the recovery time in-between reps is automatically adjusted for each repetition based on your fatigue state. And that particular session might also be ended after a particular fatigue state or training effect is achieved.
3. Coached Training – Tailoring Training Load and Daily Sessions
You can already download and follow plans from Garmin Connect. What I am talking about here is different and more dynamic.
If you’ve seen FIRSTBEAT’s ATHLETE software then you will have seen that the training coach does a similar thing to what I have just talked about with the 10x2minute session example (above) EXCEPT that it does it on a day-to-day basis. So it might tell you to do a training effect=3.4 session on Monday BUT depending on how you perform in that session it will make Tuesday either harder or easier. That sort of thing would have to be implemented from the Garmin Connect level and I can’t see it happening unfortunately – I actually use the FIRSTBEAT ATHLETE TRAINING COACH as one of the inputs to MY training FWIW…it’s quite good (example below).
Source: FIRSTBEAT KUVA6
4. Coached Training – Technique
Perhaps something that could be incorporated into the ‘special’ running metrics (VO GTC) is something in Garmin Connect to actually tell you what to do about it. This could equally apply to cycling metrics of course. Currently the general consensus with the existing metrics is that they are ‘nice’ but largely unactionable, with the exception of cadence.
So what I am thinking of here is some form of feedback into your TECHNIQUE training. Maybe you BOUNCE too much. Well Garmin could then point that out to you AND tell you what to do about it (eg drills). This sort of thing might build on new RUNNING DYNAMICS metrics or the recently extended set of CYCLING DYNAMICS METRICS.
SWIMMING DYNAMICS, if you look, are recognised by Garmin Connect. However they are essentially stroke-rate (cadence) related metrics as opposed to the wobble/bounce/twist/reach/catch/etc-related technical aspects of swimming.
Having said all of this I suspect Garmin’s response would be that the data produced by the 3x TRIATHLON DYNAMICS need to be interpreted by YOUR coach and s/he should be the one who tells you what to do about it. That would be a shame as most people do not have one-to-one coaching!
I can’t really see anything new being added around tests, technique- and recovery-feedback.
5. Garmin Patents
I have looked through some Garmin patents (on the net). The only thing that stood out to me were navigational aids when openwater swimming. So you could imagine some kind of feedback device to help steer a course towards the next buoy during a race. This would reduce the need for sighting and would make you faster. Unfortunately you would be disqualified for using such technology and/or would be reliant on getting the buoy position precisely correct in order to be correctly directed to it from the watch’s probably incorrect estimate of where you currently are!!
Nice idea though!
So having got to the end I confess to, once again, coming to the end of this opinion piece without jumping up and down with childlike excitement. Yet I come back to the FACT that Garmin will HAVE to innovate and differentiate their 925XT / 930XT offering from the 920XT. I am 100% certain about that if nothing else (share price!).
Feeling that there is not so much that either can or will be added in terms of firmware/software functionality I am left with the disappointing conclusion that the differentiation will happen almost exclusively through the ‘better’ optical HR hardware from MIO GLOBAL. Garmin is a technology company after all, so maybe this should not surprise us.
Perhaps there will be an expansion of SWIM capability and perhaps also HR caching on a new chest strap. However the one remaining SMALL hole in the offering will be a lack of HRV/R-R data when swimming.
PREDICTION: A 925XT to include optical HR and maybe swim enablement of optical HR. Followed later by a 930XT to include swim enablement of optical HR, some more swim related goodies a bit more too.