Garmin have just released their Fenix 5 Plus models just over a year after the release of the original Fenix 5, 5X and 5S. We see the Fenix 5S Plus, the Fenix 5 Plus and the Fenix 5X Plus as well. The initial specs of the Fenix 5 Plus, however, include much of what I expected, below, would be added into the Fenix 6.
This seems like an appropriate time to speculate about what will be in Garmin’s Fenix 6 (six) which we should be able to buy in 2019.
Many months ago we had great fun speculating about what was going to be in the current Fenix 5 models and generally got the prediction ‘about right’ (link to:the5krunner.com). This time around it will be trickier as there are few ‘proper’ sports-related features that remain to be integrated. The new Fenix 6 model is likely to be pushed more towards increased precision and an increased depth and breadth of existing, non-sport features such as MUSIC and CONTACTLESS payments. For the smartwatch lover this is going to be a great post; for a dedicated sports watch lover perhaps less so!
The Fenix 3/HR sent Garmin into the sports watch stratosphere and was highly selling. I’d guess that the Fenix 5/5X/5s/Forerunner 935 together will sell even more than the Fenix 3 AND at higher price points.
Garmin accountants LOVE the Fenix. Garmin shareholders LOVE the Fenix.
The three main Fenix 5 Plus models are basically the same under the hood but each with a twist of some sort. Let’s recap:
- Fenix 5S Plus – the smaller one
- Fenix 5X Plus – the bigger one with maps
- Fenix 5 Plus – the one in the middle in terms of size
- UNCHANGED Forerunner 935 – the lightweight, triathlon one
Problems in Garmin-Town
The Fenix 5 has some quite serious problems. Serious, that is, if they affect you. If they don’t affect you then almost by definition you will be blissfully unaware of them and think you have the most awesome sports watch ever.
- Optical HR – actually it is a little unfair to beat Garmin with this stick. Every competitor’s wrist-based, optical HR is ‘far from great’. Garmin is one of the better ones but the technology seems fundamentally flawed and only really RELIABLY useful for in-workout usage which are steady-state run or stationary bike based.
- Some users suggest that the extra weight of the 5X causes further oHR issues.
- GPS and GPS+GLONASS – Personally I think GLONASS makes the positional accuracy worse, except in unusual situations. Putting that to one side, the Fenix 5 GPS is ‘accurate enough’ or ‘OK’ or ‘meh’ it is NOT market-leading. Anyone who tells you it is…is wrong. But for many uses it is perfectly acceptable; for example to give you a pretty track of where you have just worked out.
- GPS+GALILEO – I am yet to fully form my view on whether or not GALILEO is the precision tech that Garmin needs. It’s looking promising
- Connectivity – The Fenix 5 and Fenix 5S had sensor connectivity issues that could not be fixed through software; hence the 5plus and 5S plus versions which have no reports yet of such problems AND ARE UNLIKELY TO DO SO
The Wonders Of Fenixville
If you have N+1 bikes then the Fenix has F+1 features. That’s a LOT of features. AN AWFUL LOT.
One key feature that underpins the true capability of the Fenix is the awesome battery life. So whilst WearOS devices can show great maps on their uber-pretty screens, their batteries simply won’t support many a long hike. With a sensible number of features enabled, the 935 will probably get you through to the end of your Ironman Triathlon even if you finish in 16+ hours (let’s assume it was a hilly one 😉 ).
The four Fenix 5 models seem generally very well suited to the target market segments: the adventurer; the triathlete; the smaller-wristed person; the feature lover;…The Fenix 5 Plus are EQUALLY as well suited, just that they offer a bit of extra love on the map, music and payment fronts.
The Garmin Fenix 6
Let’s cover the main areas of the Fenix 6, Forerunner 945 and how they will expand in the future.
A key theme to look out for is the ability of the device to leverage additional revenues streams for Garmin. For example I would imagine that Garmin will take a cut from all transactions made with Garmin PAY and will also take a cut from every premium subscriber of a 3rd party music service.
Form & Overall Function
The large, medium, small and lightweight, circular formats are here to stay.
These are further refined in use-specific models such as Descent MK2 (dive), Tactix Delta (military/hunting), D2 Delta (aviation), Chronos (dress watch), Forerunner 935/945 (triathlon)
The existing Fenix button layout and interface work well and will not change significantly.
It’s possible a touchscreen could be introduced on one of the models but I hope not.
Weights and dimensions will be little changed but a new battery here and a new GPS chip there will change the weight in a few grams/ounces here and there.
I suspect that the Fenix 5 Plus (five) will prove popular and a similar Fenix 6 Plus edition might follow half way through the Fenix 6-to-7 product cycle.
Take Out: Little change
Apps – CIQ 3, CIQ4
The Garmin Fenix 6 will support the current CIQ version. That will probably encompass CIQ4..whatever that turns out to be.
CIQ3 allows improvements for the handling of notifications, maps and audio. This gives some clues to the areas that Garmin see to be important moving forwards.
When you think of ‘maps’ try to think NOT of route navigation whilst exercising but rather location-based services (eg Yelp), the application of mapping is much wider than the sporty application of maps.
Take Out: Will support latest CIQ
An ‘obvious’ market trend to follow would be for the high-end of the Fenix range to have onboard cellular connectivity. Whilst this might let you take and receive phone calls on the watch, perhaps the more important feature enabled is 247 internet connectivity. So we are NOT talking here about taking a call in the middle of your triathlon but rather having GROUP TRACK and LIVE TRACK enabled in your triathlon…without a smart phone. We are also talking about over-the-air streaming music services and very many other location-based services that already exist for your smartphone.
Set against that, just think, if we are going to have a microphone built-in to watch that is going underwater. Certainly with the Fenix dive watch I doubt very much if microphones and speakers are the way to go underwater. BUT true wireless earbuds save the need for a speaker and some higher end earbuds also have decent inbuilt microphones.
Take Out: At least one of the Fenix 6 variants will have cellular connectivity and this will be the HEADLINE FEATURE that sets it apart from the Fenix 5 Plus series.
Music support has shown its pretty head in the 5 Plus, 5S Plus and 5X Plus
I’m expecting that the Garmin platform further evolves to enable 3rd party music services to almost plug-and-play into your watch. iHeartRadio and Deezer are the currently supported services but at some point others will follow. Whilst the Apple Music service may never find its way onto a Garmin, Google Play Music might and I certainly expect that Spotify will.
As of June 2018 only the Forerunner 645 Music, Vivoactive 3 Music and Fenix 5 Plus series support Garmin’s music platform. We will see a Forerunner (2)45 also support music soon enough.
Music is going to be an interesting addition not just that mp3 playback is supported but rather how and what kinds of audio files are meshed into an ever-improving music playback set of functionalities.
Music playback will NOT simply be a high-end feature. ie simplistically it will not just be on the Fenix 6 but rather it will be on a premium-priced version in each Garmin category. So there will be a music version for: activity trackers (maybe); entry-level running watches; mid-level running watches; and the Fenix 6, as a premium/flagship sub brand, will all have music
I expect that if we get a cellular version of the Fenix 6 then the music functionality will need to be further differentiated to support true music streaming as well as offline, watch-based caching from a streamed service (eg via home wifi or home PC)
We might also see Garmin differentiate its music offering by only allowing very simple music playback on low to mid-range devices, leaving the streaming services for the higher-end models like the Fenix 6. But I don’t think so. I think there will be one broad music offering which is either supported or not (plus live streaming on the VERY top models)
Take Out: The Fenix 6 variants will have music but will their be a live streaming version over a cellular connection?
Garmin PAY WILL be in the imminent 5 plus series (5 plus, 5S plus, 5X plus)
There are peripheral arguments here about how nice it is to be able to buy a coffee with your watch at the end of your run. I think this somewhat misses an understanding of the true business opportunity. Garmin PAY’s cut of your $2 coffee will not amount too much.
Part of the reason for the removal of the ugly Forerunner 920XT from the Garmin range is that Garmin’s watches need to be 247 watches. Hey, if you’re wearing a watch 247 then you are fair game for a service that wants to be there on your wrist just whenever you want to splash some cash and give Garmin PAY their cut.
That is why many similar vendors to Garmin want to get in on the same game. Apple, Samsung, Google, Fitbit PAY, Ali Pay, etc.
Take Out: Contactless payment via Garmin PAY is going to be on all Fenix devices…sooner, rather than later. Because this feature generates revenue for Garmin there will always be a push to include it on mid-range models. Supported banks will continue to increase.
Internet of Things
I’m a bit sceptical about all of this IoT stuff. CIQ apps already exist for IoT functionality but I just think much of it speaks of laziness. Do I really want my garage door to automatically open as I turn right into my home street? Do I really want to turn the lights off without getting up from where I’m sitting at home? Only then for my watch to tell me 5 minutes later to MOVE as I’m not being active enough?
Just think, with a press of a few button on his/her Chronos, the President might be able to trigger a nuclear launch. I’ve seen too many sci-fi films, sorry.
More – SmartThings Control it’s already here!!! (link to: dcrainmaker.com, April 2017)
Take out: Whatever you or I might think on this matter…it’s going to happen anyway. The Fenix 6 will control lots of mundane stuff, the mundane stuff can then trigger other mundane stuff with IFTTT.com.
Optical Heart Rate
Hopefully everyone by now has fallen out of love with optical HR, having realised it is generally not accurate enough. Maybe that’s too cynical a view? And maybe some tinkering around the edges of accuracy with optical HR and its uses can make us fall in love again? This time with how 247 optical HR can leverage recovery/adaptation analyses.
The Fenix 5 Plus probably does NOT have a new iteration of the ELEVATE sensor. Just the regular one with some new algorithms and a bit of tinkering on the 5X Plus to support PulseOX (blood oxygen). I can already support 24×7 HR and resting HRV to a degree.
Garmin will likely iterate a new ELEVATE sensor but I suspect only small-scale, incremental improvements in size, accuracy and power consumption will be possible. The Fenix 6 should then see a good level of resting-HRV accuracy from an optical sensor, this will then give Garmin or CIQ apps a better chance of vaguely meaningful sleep analyses and post-workout recovery analyses. Perhaps also HRV support will be possible at higher levels of HR, although I am somewhat sceptical this will be possible.
There are still significant advances that can happen for athletes in this area (resting HRV) that utilise current or soon-to-be current technology on the Fenix 6. In my opinion, athletes who start to be more interested in recovery rather than fine-tuning a specific workout’s parameters will be the ones who will get the bigger performance gains.
Take Out: The next generation of ELEVATE will be on the Fenix 6 and it will do resting HRV quite well. 3rd parties like Firstbeat will continue to exploit this with new athletic features.
GPS & Galileo (GLONASS and BDS?)
Single Band GALILEO is in the Fenix 5 Plus
I’m not going to stop moaning about Garmin’s GPS accuracy until they produce a market-leading watch to deliver accurate GNSS positioning for sport.
Will dual band GALILEO and the availability of a full constellation of GALILEO satellites (2020?) be what is requried to get awesome GNSS results? I don’t know yet. I am probably running right now with GALILEO on my 5S Plus to find out….
Q: So will GALILEO actually make any real difference, especially to precision?
A: It might not. Don’t get your hopes up. My understanding is that there are possible single-band and dual-band implementations possible with GALILEO. The latter being more accurate. My further understanding is that significant antennae redesign may be required for the latter and that such a redesign would need the Fenix shell to be redesigned. Comments very much welcomed below if you know more about this area.
We shall have to wait to see what GPS+GALILEO brings in real-world usage. The Garmin Foretrex and Edge 130 units already support Galileo. I’m not entirely sure how cycling positional accuracy can be meaningfully improved for most people in most circumstances. Let’s hope the Edge 130 experience has better enabled Garmin to fine-tune their Galileo offering for the Fenix 5plus/6.
Perhaps 3rd party, high precision GPS/BDS/GLONASS/GALILEO sensors could make a comeback for runners? (A: No) I think Polar used to make one and there is the Garmin GLO from over 5 years ago (for cars). Maybe a footpod is easier 😉
Take Out: The Fenix 6 will have GALILEO in all its full glory, we will then be waiting for the next version of America’s GPS to be even better.
I think we are pretty much ‘there’ with sensor support. I expect all Garmin sensors will soon broadcast in ANT+ and BLE and I expect all Garmin Fenix watches to receive both such signals from all the existing sensor types. The ANT+ vs BLE war is not over. It’s just going through the phase of every sensible company needing to support both in the sporty world. In the super longterm, unfortunately, BLE will win.
Garmin already has the ability to accept new data types through CIQ. So if we ever get a decent hydration sensor or a blood glucose sensor (nah!) then it will slot into your Fenix 6 relatively easily. Let#s face it, it will even slot into the existing tech easily enough too.
Garmin messed up with connectivity issues in the Fenix 5/5S. They won’t make that mistake again. The 5 Plus series will be fine in that regard as will the Fenix 6 series. Someone at Garmin will be in charge of testing that 😉
I think we are also due a next iteration of the HRM-RUN/TRI/SWIM which will probably broadcast dual BLE – ANT+ and maybe also a newer and more accurate footpod that might also support Garmin’s Running Power algorithm and be a viable (proper) alternative to STRYD. Although I’m not sure that the market is big enough for Garmin…we’ll see.
Take Out: All current sport sensors will be supported in whichever way you want to connect and connection reliability will be great. There might be a modicum of gadget-excitement from some new accessories for the Fenix including a proper STRYD competitor.
New Sensor Support
We have seen the integration of a Pulse Oximeter into the Fenix 5X PLUS.
One industry trend…well, aspiration…is to be able to sense more important stuff like blood glucose and hydration levels. There are significant technical issues involved in getting these data right and there are potentially lucrative medical uses for the first company to properly achieve this. As well as legal cases that might arise if the data is not correct. Let’s face it, even heart rate is not yet properly addressed in the Elevate sensor.
Nevertheless, the aspiration if not the means exist to expand the limits to what the Fenix 6 can endeavour to sense via multiple clever ways of shining a light into your skin.
Screen Size & Resolution
Whilst LOTS OF FEATURES plus GREAT BATTERY LIFE = SUCCESS for Garmin, the hardware drawback has been a relatively poor screen. The existing Fenix 5 and 5 Plus screens are not much changed from earlier Garmin models and they fall WAY behind the brilliance and vibrancy of many of the more mainstream watches (Apple Watch, WearOS watches).
The screen is one of the key compromises Garmin has had to make. Garmin could quite easily introduce an amazing screen but BANG would go the battery life and then athletes would start complaining.
IMPORTANT POINT: This necessary (and correct) compromise that Garmin made historically is now at the crossroads. We’ve already seen, from several of the new feature sets discussed above, that Garmin is getting into the 247 world. And to do that the screens need to significantly improve to support 247 wearability.
Ticwatch and Casio have introduced novel 2 layer screen solutions to this dilemma but I can’t see Garmin going there.
We might just get a slightly improved screen from a newer, battery-friendly display but it won’t take on the beauty of the displays you’ve seen on your friends’ wrists.
Also of note is that the Fenix 5S PLUS seems to have a larger 1.2″ screen, the same as the Fenix 5. Probably this will involve a thinner bezel but same overall watch size.
Take Out: At best there will only be a marginal improvement over the Fenix 5’s screen. Probably only to the levels of the higher-end, existing Suunto SPARTAN/9 watches
New True Sporty Features
I can only see tinkering around the edges happening in most areas of sporting functionality on the Fenix 6. For true niche sporting functionalities then CIQ will be leveraged by 3rd party developers and/or Firstbeat will need to develop some more goodies for Garmin. The one exception to that will be CdA where Garmin’s relatively recent acquisition of Alphamantis will be leveraged for cyclists.
Running power data is currently incorporated into the Garmin data environment via CIQ. So running power is DIFFERENT to cycling power and running pace and heart rate and everything else. That’s why, for example, you can’t currently get native Running Power Alerts. Running Power doesn’t ‘plug in’ in quite the same way.
This is, sort of, outside Garmin’s control. In a nutshell, once an ANT+ working group agrees the standards for Running Power then it will be incorporated for Garmin, RunScribe and STRYD to leverage on the Fenix 6
Take Out: By the time the Fenix 6 is released this could already be working in the Fenix 5 (plus)
Oxygen Availability Based Training
Muscle oxygen sensors like MOXY are GREAT but they are only for a tiny elite of VERY serious athletes and labs. I love my gadgets but this area is a gadget too for me and for most of you too. This can currently be incorporated by CIQ and the market opportunity is too small for Garmin to take on the likes of MOXY and HUMON.
Take Out: Nada
Intelligent Training: Firstbeat, Xert and more
Intelligent Training is one of the areas where much remains to be exploited and it’s an area where the technology already exists. It’s ‘just’ a case of someone, somewhere writing all the correct and clever bits of code to make it happen. I’d class intelligent training as covering things like: adaptive training plans (macro); adaptive workouts (micro); and realtime audio coaching.
Your watch will become your trainer and your coach. Some people will want to be totally controlled by tech other will just want very occasional feedback and guidance…ALL of us could benefit from a little more intelligence on our training devices.
If you follow the newswires of many of the sports data platforms you will probably have seen a new ‘adaptive training’ model introduced every month for the last year or so. I’m pretty sure that several of these are going to be ‘smoke and mirrors’. It’s really hard to define what ‘doing it properly’ actually is; let alone delivering a solution that ‘does it properly’. And that’s just for running, doing if for triathlon is super hard (in a previous life…I tried!!)
Currently the Fenix 5 Plus series has many Firstbeat features: link to Firstbeat.com. For those of you already familiar with what Garmin incorporate from Firstbeat then you can see Firstbeat’s potential to give you insights into your training as well as to actually help training be more efficient…that is, assuming you trust the numbers that derive from heart rate readings.
I would hope that the Fenix 6 will leverage both existing and new Firstbeat features that encompass deeper use of resting HRV (optical), exercise HRV (chest strap) & power and more intelligent training plans that adapt to your fitness/fatigue states on a day-to-day level as well as within a workout.
Xert does that too. Xert works from power numbers in a non-traditional way. For example it knows that the last rep is harder than the first rep. So why have the same target? And it knows that your ability to execute a hard workout after a previous day’s hard workout is restricted by your increased levels of fatigue.
An adaptive training plan might set today’s workout, accounting for your fatigue. And it might dynamically lengthen or shorten the workout based on the time you spend in each zone. But do different flavours of “time-in-zone” accurately reflect the stimulus and responses that are happening in your body? HRV might be a better tool for refining adaptive training models.
Take Out: Maybe a raft of adaptive training programs for all levels across many sports, maybe even triathlon. But on what basis do we adapt? heart rate, power, HRV, training effect and is the method of adaptation really validated for a 60 year old female athlete? or just a 30-something male?
Navigation via TOPO maps is included in the Fenix 5 Plus series (5 Plus, 5S Plus, 5X Plus)
CIQ 3 is opening up ‘mapping’ funcitonality and this goes part-way to explaing why the Fenix 5 Plus introduces mapping and navigation support.
We will already have full colour routable TOPO mapping with trendline popularity and route sharing on the 5 Plus series, what next for the Fenix 6?
I would certainly expect improvements in 3D positioning (ie estimation of elevation) and air pressure measurement. Don’t forget, we are expecting a cellular based Fenix 6 so weather data can be periodically updated and localised elevation maps of local GPS points will help improve the accuracy of live elevation.
New Sport Metrics and Improvements to Segments, Splits & Laps
New sport metrics will come from 3rd parties. I can’t see any obvious omissions from the Fenix 5 Plus that can’t be filled by CIQ data fields and apps.
Having said that, one issue with CIQ data fields is that it cannot be used to control laps – although an app can but it would lose lots of other functionality in so doing.
I think Garmin need to do more with laps. And should cover these:
- Lap based on GPS co-ordinate – this would be useful, for example, to properly count true laps in triathlons where multiple bike laps on a car race circuit are required. And it would save me pressing the lap button on my shimano Di2 on each lap of my local park 😉
- Layers of laps – Garmin currently only has either manual laps or autolaps (time/distance). It would be nice to be able to have both. For example within long 20 minute intervals the ability to add 1km autolaps. Garmin do currently allow autolaps within multisport profiles.
- True effort laps – If I cut short an interval then it can become impossible to later analyse what I really achieved if the lap marker is at the originally intended/wrong point. I’d like to see the ability to recalculate true laps based on true effort periods eg if I had autolap set to 1km but only ran hard for 800m then that 800m would be marked as a lap. The next lap may well be 1050m if I run longer to compensate. Software like Golden Cheetah can do this on many levels, but it would be useful to have such functionality working LIVE on the watch as we run/cycle/swim.
Take Out: I’m whistling in the wind.
Garmin acquired Alphamantis a whille back and this signals a move to incorporate aerodynamic data for cycling. It is likely that more than a simple, in-house CIQ app will be built in to the 945 (Fenix)
Remember the Fenix 5 series includes the Forerunner 935. This is the best triathlon watch right now.
I have a recent concern with the 935, having run out of battery after 10.5 hours of a long bike ride despite a stated >>20 hours of one second, GPS enabled battery recording time. My 935 is a year old and the battery has definately lasted longer than 10.5 hours previously. This resurfaces the worry that, for some people, (aka most people) the battery on an old 935 watch might not be enough for an Ironman. This must be rectified by a better battery and/or better battery management/demands. Tuning off all your gadgets and sensors to preserve battery life in your A race doesn’t hold well with me.
Garmin are already making super-cute moved by introducing the Edge 130 as a dumb terminal for the bike leg of your triathlon. Expect to see relatively niche (but good) functionality tlike dumb terminals introduced all around the edges of what the 935 can do for example the use of a dumb terminal could then enable the possibility to introduce some form of battery management on the Fenix 6/945 on your wrist whilst cycling.
Odds & Ends
It’s likely there will be increased onboard storage for music files and maps/map layers
Mapping on a CIQ ‘MAP’ app has the potential to crash the Fenix 6 very easily. Errant CIQ apps are somewhat of a risk and, in the past, you can certainly see on many Garmin watches that CIQ apps slow them down. If you couple this with Garmin only providing just enough CPU/memory for the watch then a costly, but sensible, route for Garmin will be to soup up and future-proof the Fenix 6…but they probably won’t.
One of the Fenix’s selling points is its connectivity with everything. There are still some elements of gym equipment and FE-C and remote ANT+ control that could be added. But, probably not.
Price & Availability
An announcement at CES2019 was expected for the Fenix 6. With the Fenix 5 Plus having a MUCH larger feature-jump than expected I would be surprised to see a Fenix 6 in Jan 2019. I would expect Fall 2019 or CES 2020.
The lack of a Forerunner 945 triathlon watch released alongside the Fenix 5 plus series suggeses, to me, that new sport-realted goodies might be released to the 935/945 in September 2018 (Christmas/Kona-time)
We’ve seen the Fenix 5 plus series pushing the prices higher than ever. This will continue with the Fenix 6. However higher pricing opens up the ability to introduce a lower-priced Fenix 6-lite and/or to better differentiate other Garmin ranges – for example a refreshed Garmin Forerunner 655 could contain many more features, look sporty yet still be better price-differentiated from more expensive Fenix 6 models.
Prices are likely to be $550 to $1200 (from the Fenix 6 Lite to the 6X).
It’s my job to give Garmin a hard time when they deserve it.
However what I’m describing for the Fenix 6 is probably getting close to a perfect smart watch for a sporty person. The only downsides are going to be PRICE and, for some people, AESTHETICS. But even on the aesthetics front I think Garmin generally do a good job with the Fenix.
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