Is the Triathlon Watch Status Quo about to change? There are going to be some significant changes this year with several new products already announced. Excitement! The party ain’t over yet.
This post is more ‘informational’, the Amazon ads and other links are included so you can research the more unusual newer/better products.
From Daniela Ryf and Brownlee to your mate round the corner, lots of people are doing triathlons to some degree of seriousness. Some of you will get a triathlon watch, some won’t, and some of you will develop a nasty imprint on your wrist as that high-tech sports computer tries to meld itself to your inner, competitive psyche. I talked to someone who used to work at 220triathlon and seem to remember over 30,000 subscribers being mentioned…that’s a lot of potential watch sales.
Whilst a triathlon watch specifically refers to a watch that can cover (OpenWater) Swim-Bike-Run, really we mean a multisport watch, and I’ll mean ‘multisport watch’ when I say ‘tri watch’ from now on.
To be classed as a tri watch your wrist-based friend needs to have a sport called ‘triathlon’ that consecutively controls the 3 sub-disciplines. Each of those 3 disciplines need to be able to be configured differently and, to be useful, the manufacturer’s app or web platform also needs to be able to show the 3 sets of sports data distinctly after you have finished.
That broad definition sounds ‘fair enough’ to me as a minimum requirement. However I would imagine that it is relatively tricky to accomplish that ‘triathlon profile’ from a hardware and software point of view. The reality is that the manufacturer will be endeavouring to adapt a running watch and make it a tri watch; rather than create a tri watch from scratch.The latter would be refreshing and super cool.
For a new market entrant, there are several tech hurdles to overcome to meet the criteria.
Some Market ‘Needs’
Many triathlon competitors have probably a little bit more money than average and tend to buy relatively expensive and sophisticated gadgetry of many kinds. To justify and command a premium price there are an awful lot of hardware/software hurdles that need to be overcome to deliver all the training and racing goodies that we ‘need’ in a triathlon watch. Here are several that spring to mind for a top-end device:
- Ability to create and execute complex structured workouts, ideally possible within the context of an overall digital training plan
- Audible and visual performance alerts
- Ability to create an endless customised multisport profile eg a Brick training session or Otillo race
- Ability to pair to BLE and ANT+ sensors of all types (power) and to store and name multiple sensors of each type. Ideally also providing the ability to capture HR whilst swimming and power whilst running.
- Look cool
- Have no mention of the words “touch” and “screen” anywhere in the manual, compensating for that by proper button/function logic & positioning
- Properly waterproof and reasonably durable
- Laps and autolaps separately customisable within each discipline
- Lots and lots of data metrics to cover all of our whims for training and racing.
- A battery life that takes the athlete through their intended race distance with a reasonable amount of the ‘bells and whistles functionality’ still able to work – eg if LIVE TRACKING is a feature for your top-end watch then the Ironman’s spectator family needs to be able to follow the athlete for potentially over 15/6 hours
- A screen that is able to display at least 4 legible metrics in differing light conditions – many triathletes are over 40 and this is when most humans’ eyes start to deteriorate.
- Strava integration, general platform openness.
- Ability to set custom pool lengths
- Accurate GPS/GLONASS, accurate oHRM and a passable altimeter
- Pacing functionality
- Physiological insights
- Smartphone integration
- Per-second recording
Implementing all of that represents a very significant technological ‘barrier to entry’ for a new entrant at the top end of the market and that’s why I didn’t list Suunto earlier.
A New Watch
Does the new market entrant go for the premium market that is totally dominated by Garmin and, to a lesser extent, Polar? (lowish volume but high margin) Or do they cut back on some features,lower the price and go for the higher volume, lower margin markets? ie the ones that have more competition and lower barriers to entry for new competition? It’s a tricky choice.
We’ve seen, above, the Epson ProSense coming in at $400 (Jan 2018) and the Epson ad describes it as ‘luxury’ with ‘#1 best in class battery’. Does it support normalized power display and will it correctly support an Otillo swim-run race? I doubt it. I hope to be proved wrong.
The impending Xiaomi-Huami-Amazfit Pace 2 multisport STRATOS appears to have few dillusions of grandeur with a suspected sub-$200 price tag. The sort of person buying that will probably NEVER have heard of Otillo – which is fine. I’ve never done one either. But the Amazfit seems to be offering extra bundled tri features at an entry-level price. Just as Firstbeat and CIQ might fill the feature bag for the Garmin 935 buyer then so the Firstbeat and other features fill the feature bag for the entry level buyer. Garmin have done VERY well by including LOTS of features, maybe Xiaomi-Huami-Amazfit will achieve the same?
You can see for yourself where the more well-known models are positioning themselves in terms of pricing in the various ads.
Upper End of the market
At the higher end I’d go for the Forerunner 935 but would be perfectly happy with a Forerunner 920XT or a Polar V800
Polar should be exciting us with a replacement V800 (Polar V850, Polar V900 ?) at some point this year. That should shake things up a bit in terms of the real choices we have at the upper end. In reality Polar probably won’t come up with an app store and other super-nicities BUT I hope they come up with a great package that ticks all the required boxes for a proper tri watch.
But the problem that Polar have is that they are doing all the development themselves. Same for Suunto. By NOT having an app store or some degree of openness to other platforms then it just gives them more work to do and more cost to incur before they have a product that genuinely competes at the upper end. Openness or apps, to a large degree, can get 3rd party developers to do the work for you – for free!
Garmin/Apple’s apps stores are examples of that and Wahoo is an example of openness to, for example, training plans + workouts for their Elemnt cycling computers coming from Training Peaks.
Nevertheless this part of the market will remain an interesting place to compete in. There is much less price sensitivity for the right product as I discussed in this article:
Lower End of the market
Currently, at the entry-level, Suunto’s Spartan Trainer WHR would be my choice. It ticks more boxes than most others and generally has the best price.
But it’s a risky place to be.
We’ve seen that someone like Xiaomi-Huami-Amazfit can potentially come in at 30% less than the Suunto Trainer. Similarly Garmin could introduce a new mid-priced model (745XT) but then suddenly deeply discount other ‘redundant models’ like the 920XT or 735XT and BANG Suunto’s Trainer might have 2 more similarly priced competitors (I’m sure that has already periodically happened in various sale periods).
In between those extremes the Suunto and other Garmins require you to make various trade-offs about what is important to you.
Perhaps buyers are sometimes not as well-informed and make what might be seen as a less rational choice based on looks or brand loyalty or some other factor. I suspect this is where degrees of disingenuous marketing can come in to make products seem better than they really are and to convince some people to pay the higher prices. Maybe such a strategy attempts to buy the manufacturer more time to develop a few more features? Maybe. It’s a risky game if you get found out. You might know some recent examples.
Perhaps something like the Ironcloud T1 might shake up the mid-market?
So there we go.
Prices can keep rising at the top end even with more credible competition.
I reckon there will be price pressures at the lower end and (almost) feature-full watches to match.
Confusion in the middle at least will give me something to do to help try to resolve 🙂
Buy carefully now.