2017: "The year of the Garmin" – Sports Watch MARKET predictions for an exciting year – not just for Garmin

Garmin 735XT

We can already see that sports technology is exploding in many directions: the market is global and is growing globally; technology is broadening its capabilities & competencies; online services and apps are getting cleverer; corporate health consciousness is growing; basic activity trackers’ usefulness is being questioned; smartphone apps offer ever-richer experiences; wearability/fashion is important; and the big boys & girls of tech are staking their claims as we potentially approach a bumper year of new sports/activity devices.

Seeking Market Share Through R&D – Drives New Device Introduction

In a mature market the key to survival is market share. Market share gives a critical mass to make long-term profitability possible. We’re not quite yet in a mature market, with probably one or two more years to go, BUT some segments of the overall market have already reached their individual maturity levels.

Smiles and polite nods at trade shows might disguise the truth. The truth is that companies desperately need those ‘killer devices’. Then with: sports magazines; many sites like this; other media; and the interactive nature of sports, most consumers soon get to know where to direct their sport-dollar spend. That truth involves ruthlessly trying to drive out competition from the market…or secretly smile as the latest, ‘greatest’ widget just doesn’t work; or pray for a competitor product-recall that will simply near-bankrupt a smaller company.

The eventual end-game will be a few large companies and several niche players. So whilst I am personally more interested in Polar, Garmin and Suunto, the real long-term survivors might be the likes of Apple, Samsung, Fitbit and various Chinese firms that many westerners have not heard about.

It’s not the same with apps. Software-only solutions could well take off from an investment  of a few tens of thousands of pounds/dollars/euros. But a single high tech physical product will cost VERY MUCH more. And remember we’ve just implied that one product is probably not going to be enough, except in a specialist niche market. R&D is king. R&D is one of the strategic pillars of achieving the elusive market share.The survivors in the sports device world will be the big investors in R&D who make informed, strategic decisions and who get lucky!

Nevo Balade Parisienne

Back to Garmin & sports.

2016 was, for me, going to be the year of the tri watch, led by Garmin. Product release cycles and technology developments all seemed nicely aligned. Instead we had the SPARTAN, a whiff of the Fenix 4 with the CHRONOS and a vague hint from Polar.

2017 may well be the perfect storm for running (and tri) related devices. And I think Garmin are going to have a big say in which way that wind will blow.

I’ll talk a bit about the following players; Garmin, Fitbit, Polar, Suunto, Apple, Samsung, Android Wear and Xiaomi, and this post will probably be edited as time passes and I think about it whilst running somewhere.

Garmin

In 2016 Garmin delivered: Chronos, Edge 820, Forerunner 35, Vivoactive HR, Vivosmart HR+, Vivomove, Vivofit Jr.. Nice!

Big hints of the products: The following image is my favourite Garmin-sourced chart of devices that support their app platform, Connect IQ (CIQ). My interpretation of this and public info around CIQ is that all the Aikido Monkey devices will start to fall behind the other devices’ app capabilities as from 1st January 2017. I’d say ‘unsupported’ but that’s the wrong word.

Basically, Biker Monkey (CIQ2) is the main app platform version from 01Jan17 onwards until 1st January 2019.

XERT, STRYD, MOXY and other are amongst those releasing CIQ apps that are actually good and useful.

So a good bet is that all the devices at the bottom of the image will, IMO, either stagnate or be replaced (lower end Garmin devices do not have CIQ). Whereas the same bet would see those at the top, with the exception of the Edge 1000, not being replaced in 2017.

garmin-aikido-biker-ciq

  • So we will get most of these: Fenix 4/5 (Chronos + possibly HR, diving & mapping versions);  Forerunner 935 series; a Forerunner 245 (mid-range run); and a Forerunner 635 – all in 2017 I think
  • Probably also an upgrade to the Edge 1000 (1010/1050, high end bike with nav).
  • Possibly a Swim 2
  • Unlikely Edge 530 (high end bike with no nav), Forerunner 45 (low-end run), Edge 830, Edge 30/35 (low-end, compact bike), Forerunner 745XT, Vivoactive HR replacement.
  • Don’t know: Epix 2 – either as a new device or a Fenix 4 mapping variant. It sits in a market devoid of competition, it’s just how big the market is. (Edit: This is effectively the Fenix 5X, so there will not be an Epix 2, ever)
  • Special Accessories – I’m going to be writing about this soon. I expect some quite exciting things here.

Of course the details of what features will be in these devices may be the subject of posts-to-come. (or not)

Edit Jan 2017: Garmin 5 collection announced. This is essentially a series of watches under the FENIX sub-brand. It adds maps, replaces EPIX, adds oHR, becomes a dive watch an maybe other tri/climb/fly variants too …all in the same shell

Edit: Feb 2017: Garmin Forerunner 635 Leaked.

Edit Feb 2017: Garmin forerunner 935 images leaked

Edit: Fenix 5, 935 Full, detailed review

Polar

Polar-M600_frontleftPolar were full of surprises in 2016 with a low-end run watch, M200, and a mid-to-high end AndroidWear M600 fitness/run watch.

  • It’s likely they will release a new multisports watch to replace the V800 but they may well, inadvisedly IMO, use that same device to have a crack at the Fenix 3 multisports/outdoor market.
  • Polar support staff HAVE inadvertently confirmed on FB that a replacement V800 is being worked on.
  • The nice A360 band – might be replaced near to Xmas 2017 with another highish-end band.
  • The M400 running watch could do with updating and extending.
  • Their low-end bike computer the M450 is due for replacing as is their V650 bike navigational computer. I just don’t know if they, or anyone else, will be able to crack Garmin’s hold on the cycling market. So maybe here Polar could do something incremental with those models or nothing at all. I wouldn’t expect an innovative, all-singing WAHOO ELEMNT type product from them (WAHOO and Polar should hook up BTW)
  • They also have a low-end band, the Loop (2) which is fairly likely and probably fairly easy to be incrementally upgraded. But that is in a massive battleground of similar devices, so it depends on the profitability – I’ve no idea about its profitability.
  • Then there is the low-end A300 activity/fitness watch but I suspect the M200 has effectively replaced that.

Polar’s product naming conventions are a mystery and no doubt A, M and V are Finnish abbreviations of something beyond my mono-linguistic abilities.

Suunto

A Suunto SPARTAN optical HR version has already been announced and something has been registered with the FCC and, edit, announced in January.

There is also something else. See (here)

Beyond ‘something else’ little is expected from Suunto other than a few years delivering variants of all the currently known about products. For example there could be a diving and climbing version of the SPARTAN or a mid- to high-end running watch version of the SPARTAN Trainer.

Fitbit Surge, Polar M400, TomTom Runner2 SPARK

TomTom Runner/SPARK, Fitbit Surge, Polar M400

 

Fitbit

Fitbit brought us the Alta (basic screen activity tracker) in nearly 2016 as well as the Blaze (smartwatch but a wee bit fitness inclined), followed later in the year by the Flex 2 (glorified fashion bracelet-cum-activity tracker) and the Charge 2 (activity band).

Fitbit have a smartphone-app-tastic data ecosystem, albeit complex, albeit lacking in on-watch apps. Considering that their devices are not inspirational (although they generally work), their web platform and app is very polished and really good. I’ll say it again though, it’s complex (many of the ecosystems are complex) and it lacks on-device apps.

For a company of this size to release nothing in 2017 would be unlikely. Yet they have done nearly all the easy stuff in 2016. The products they have released go for a share in the huge part of the market that they already do very well in. The complexity of these products is surely nothing compared to what goes into a high-end device from Garmin, Polar or Suunto. So yet another increment could be sneaked out.

I believe that they will they replace the Surge (fitness watch) and/or go even higher up the fitness/sport food chain of profitability? 

Edit: They’ve bought quite a bit of IP from Pebble as well as key staff.

Edit: Loss-making Q4.2016 stats were not up to expectations and there were some redundancies announced. Nevertheless it is known that Fitbit are working on a ‘proper’ sports watch (Source: the CEO). Let’s hope it hits the streets in 2017. Indeed 2017-8 is a ‘make-or-break’ period for Fitbit IMHO. They need to get the sales and profits moving more in the right direction – they’re not doing that right now and the market is getting more competitive and not growing quite so much right at the same time.

Microsoft

  • Band 3. Nope.

Apple

A super competent v2 device is going to go from strength to strength in 2017. It can continue to make very large inroads into the fitness and activity market as well as the low-end or even mid-range of running and other sports.

It’s NOT a great sports watch despite what you might hear or read from anyone else.

  • Apple Watch Series 3 in 2017? Nope. Stick in a replaceable pod-battery with permanent, token internal battery backup and the v3 product could take it all; if they could waterproof the battery pod.

Other than a global depression you can’t see things going wrong for Apple in either the short- or medium-term.

Pebble

  • I don’t know much about Pebble and don’t really have much of a view on them. They clearly found a space in the market but  I would strongly suspect they will find the going increasingly tougher as the years pass. (Edit: Dec 2016…told you so!…bought by Fitbit, kind of)

Samsung

  • Gear Fit 3 band? Nope
  • Gear S3 Frontier and Gear S3 Classic (round watch) will be released in 2017

The exploding Note7 fiasco won’t affect this line of products per se. But it illustrates how much a global product recall can cost and, as Intel found with the Basis Peak, it can sometimes be easier to cut your losses and leave.

Samsung realise their slightly precarious position when it comes to sports. They have a proprietary OS in Tizen for wrist devices. Not so many apps for it! So partnerships will be announced (Edit: Strava Jan 2017).

TomTom

  • Spark 4/Runner 4/Adventurer 4 incremental upgrade quite possible.
  • Hopefully the market will take to their recent Runner 3 ADVENTURER variant and that can be expanded further in mapping/routing capabilities next year.
  • The touch activity/fat tracker could be updated in September 2017 if it sold well leading up to Christmas 2016. I’m sceptical about that BUT the ‘fat’ tracker concept COULD strike a chord with a significant part of the market.

Minor Players

MIO/Magellan, Cateye, Bryton, WAHOO, Lezyne, Acer, Stages, Misfit, Casio, New Balance… I’ll try to think of something interesting to say here. (EDIT: I’m still thinking)

Edit: I’m expecting an interesting wrist-based running/nav unit from Lezyne. Let’s see. That’s it. end of interesting stuff 🙂  Not really! As we’ll see below New Balance and Casio have new AndroirWear devices bringing me on to…

Android Wear 2 (platform)

So. Last but certainly not least.

Android Wear 2.0 has been delayed until Feb 2017/Q1.2017. Presumably a lot of devices will wait to be launched with it. Version 2.0 of anything implies LOTS more functionality than version 1. The tech here can get exciting very quickly.

This looks pretty cool.

as do these

And this

And this

new-balance-runiq

You get the point.

There’s LOTS of Android Wear development going on. Not so much of the development seems to be coming though to sports, although 2017 will see the start of the sports device wave. But as we saw with Casio’s innovative outdoor watch and Polar’s M600…BOOM!! Suddenly a new one is announced. It’s hard to guess/predict unless the company has announced it.

VERY MANY more to follow, some sporty and some just simply connected. On the way, no doubt, many will fail or withdraw from the market.

AndroidWear Timeline History

Image Source: Wearable.com

Just to put the importance of AndroidWear and WatchOS (Apple) into perspective; these scenarios, I reckon, are quite plausible:

2022

In 6 years time AndroidWear could easily be the dominant sports watch OS, a real near-zero to total-hero. Or it could decline slowly into obscurity over a shorter period.

Remember that Microsoft already appear to have pulled the plug on their BAND. They are quite a big company. These comings and goings REALLY do happen.

Suunto, TomTom, Polar could quite easily not be in this market space at all with the same ownership/branding and the same fate, although unlikely, could apply to Samsung. Remember Nokia? They were quite a big company. Blackberry, anyone?

Some, including myself, might argue that a ‘proper’ sports watch would need a great battery (and other sports-specific features) and that AndroidWear is battery-hungry.

  1. Battery consumption might be improved; and
  2. If AndroidWear/WatchOS dominate the mass-market then the ‘high-end’ might not be financially viable by itself.

If AndroidWear goes on to dominate, then an open platform like AndroidWear opens up the global fitness device market to companies we don’t know much about in the West – like Huawei and Xiaomi. Certainly it will be open to brands that we might only give a fleeting thought to when ‘sports’ come to mind.

Of course AndroidWear might also offer Polar a lifeline with its apparent move down that route with the M600. Strategically the most clever move in 2016, IMHO. And with market-leading hardware probably ABOVE that which will likely be offered by competitors on AndroidWear2.0 in Q1.2017.

The market options really could be as stark as that.

Or not.

2026

In 10 years time there could just be Apple (Watch OS) and AndroidWear v7, possibly Fitbit to make up the triumvirate. Even the mighty Garmin could falter in that timeframe.

It’s “back to reality” time. As the title of the post suggests 2017 will certainly NOT see Garmin faltering. In my oft-used, and vaguely funny, phrase:

2017 will be Garmintastic. Enjoy the ride

22 thoughts on “2017: "The year of the Garmin" – Sports Watch MARKET predictions for an exciting year – not just for Garmin

  1. Regarding Android Wear as future standard – I guess a lot of user would like to check the security and privacy settings of “Google Fit” beforehand. Interestings things can be found, as Google seems to not consider the data collected as “confidential medical facts”.

  2. The thing I really want from Garmin is a Fenix running AndroidWear. It has a great form factor and Wear woudl solve the app / notification challenge as it’s all there vs needing to develop for a new platform.

      • That’s a bummer if true … most of the CIQ stuff is pretty lame compared to what’s already out there. A static suffer score compared to full strava for example and that’s one they probably developed to get a real brand on the platform vs just the watch face lameness that’s mainly in the system.

      • I’d be great with that … already charging everything else daily. I want more functions and easier integration with apps / experiences from my phone. Garmin is great, but software has never been their strongest suit … especially when it comes to building out a full system. Look what happened to Connect 1.0 … allowed Strava to come in and own the market.

        • that would be certainly nice.

          Before my Fenix 3 HR, I had an Apple Watch though. There were lots of third party apps though but I found myself going back to using my phone. One rare exception was a sleep tracker Pillow app that I used every day. So I’m not sure of the value of apps and experiences on a small screen. difficult to see, difficult to tap, minuscule keyboard.

          I currently much prefer an independent watch, that you can use without your phone around, and that offers an experience completely different from “apps”.

          Maybe a good compromise is a Garmin Fenix with a double OS. i.e. with a touch of button it goes into low-battery GPS sports watch and another button it goes in full AndroidWear for your fancy apps, notifications and experiences.

  3. garmin should put some efforts into their garmin.connect website. Suunto and Polar have much better possibilities there and look more modern than connect!

  4. Android wear devices at the moment are suitable mostly for hobby runner. Serious athletes, cyclist, triathlon crowd will opt for more professional solution from Garmin/Suunto/ Polar. Its hard to imagine Apple will start making watches that would suit more serious athletes. I would say at least 50 % of people buying running wathes are hobby runners – that would be the market for Apple. If Garmin/Suunto / Polar will be able to deliver solusions for other 50 % they would be safe. If you compare Samsung gear s3 with GArmin Fenix 3 – gear 3 looks nice, but will lack so many features, and one would have to hope for adittional apps that may not come up at all. Suunto with Spartan obviously screw up. Polar on the other hand went interesting way .- budget M200, M600 midrange watch for Android fans, they have M400 midrange standard watch a V800 for profis…hopefully latter two will be updated.

    • I generally agree with you. There are serious athletes now who use apple, maybe they also use other devices on different days. the broad market that buys the m400/spark3/235 must be fairly big and attractive.

      • Most of my “story’s” have little fantasy and based on facts (as you know). I think your site has a great balance in the blogs posted. I like the real user review of the Spartan Ultra with it’s usability and the 1 minute reviews. Sometimes some pre announcement or prerelease info is nice to read. 11 watches at once, i don’t believe Garmin has ever done that amount before.

        • There you go winning the argument by using facts again. grrr. 🙂 “So we will get ***most*** of these: Fenix 4 (Chronos + possibly HR, diving & mapping versions); Forerunner 930 &/or 935XT (tri + HR version); and a Forerunner 240 &/or 245 (mid-range run) – ***all*** in 2017 I think” ***contradictory*** I guess to a degree. I’ll leave it in though otherwise someone will shout at me for not saying I’ve edited it. sigh. back to my real job…the boss is looking over my shoulder

  5. Do you think we might see new Vivosmart devices in 2017 — or will it be too soon? I noticed on Amazon.ca that there is a “Manufacture Discontinued” note above the Vivoactive HR.

  6. Very interesting analysis, from my point of view I expect a working watch for runners, let’s say a forerunner 240 with perfect synchronization feature (wifi working all the time) + mp3 Bluetooth support

    • yes for the MP3.
      To JUSTIFY a new model eg 240/740 there has to be either new hardware or new software features
      making a feature work better would not justify a new model number. (which of course NOT to say that garmin wouldn’t do it!)
      I actually think/half-know that there is something else in the offing as well.

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