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!
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.
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.
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.
- 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 935 images leaked
Polar 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.
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 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.
- Band 3. Nope.
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.
- 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)
- 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).
- 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.
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
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.
Just to put the importance of AndroidWear and WatchOS (Apple) into perspective; these scenarios, I reckon, are quite plausible:
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.
- Battery consumption might be improved; and
- 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.
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