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First up…I do not know if Garmin is going to do this.
There are more Android smartphones than Apple smartphones.
Yet there are probably more WatchOS (Apple) watches than there are watches running WearOS (Android).
Nevertheless, whichever way you want to cut it, the WearOS platform could support a large, growing and currently untapped ‘market’ for Garmin device sales.
Users of WearOS
My suspicion would be that most WearOS users use the Android-based platform for many of the free, excellent, smart features and connected features on offer from Google.
Yet, there WILL also be many WearOS users who use a WearOS device for recording their fitness activities and sports.
Though having said that the number of more serious athletes using WearOS for the purposes of sports is probably quite limited.
Problems With WearOS for Sports
I don’t see any massive problem for a sports device to be made to work well enough on WearOS. Sure the platform seems a little power-hungry but Polar managed a decent sports device with the M600 a few years back which still holds its own today.
With a new generation of more power efficient WearOS chips coming to the market from late 2018 then the battery issue goes away…slightly.
Other than Polar, I’ve not seen any vendor put together a decent WearOS package that has both a half-decent GPS and a half-decent oHR. That might be an intrinsic problem with WearOS but I doubt it. I suspect it is more that WearOS DEVICE makers want to keep the costs down on the oHR components of their devices and want to keep the power consumption of the GPS down to a minimum – they compromise on quality. They know how much Apple Watch suffered reputationally from its initial, limited battery life.
It can be done
What Would Garmin Want Out Of This?
It’s all about the money, silly.
Quite. But how would they leverage a move into WearOS to make the money? And would such a move be a strategic one, recognising the longer term trends within sports tech?
Garmin would make the hardware, which they are pretty good at. They would make the money on the sale of the hardware and they would expect this to not cannibalize the sales of their other watches too much. Rather they would hope to eat into the sales of Apple Watches and other Android-loving sporties who want a beautiful, beautiful screen and lots and lots of non-sport functionality.
Specifically also, Garmin would be looking to secure a hardware upgrade path for these initial WearOS buyers, some of whom might then go on to buy ‘proper’ Garmin sports devices to support their activity/sports data that they have already put into the Garmin Connect sports data platform via links within WearOS.
There would also be monetization potential with Garmin PAY. Let’s face it WearOS will be a potentially much better (bigger) platform for Garmin PAY than it is in the Garmin-only world. (I assume that Garmin PAY could be made to work with Google PAY on WearOS)
A Pretty Public Face
A WearOS watch would typically have a screen that is vastly superior in looks compared to Garmin’s existing offerings. A reputation for making prettier offerings would be good in many ways for Garmin who are somewhat tainted with utilitarian sports offerings.
How might a Garmin WearOS device fit into the Garmin Connect Infrastructure?
The ‘infrastructure model’ that Polar followed with the M600 seems, to me, a sensible one. Polar produced a WearOS compatible piece of hardware and added a special Polar WearOS app just for recording sports. All of the other stuff like maps, notifications, music and much more is handled by WearOS.
Similarly for Garmin; if Garmin use WearOS there is no point and no need to replicate the add-on services that WearOS delivers out-of-the-box.
Garmin would broadly implement the tech just like Polar did: A Garmin Connect app in WearOS that syncs activity/sport/sleep data back to the existing Garmin Connect Mobile platform on your smartphone.
There would hopefully be the ELEVATE oHR sensor which would beat any other WearOS vendor’s offering (except Polar) and I’m sure that Garmin would do the best they could to ensure a half-decent GPS setup.
For a company of Garmin’s great resources that doesn’t sound too hard at all. It’s NOT ANYTHING like building a competitor to the Apple Watch from scratch, yet that is precisely what this would be: a ‘proper’ competitor to the Apple Watch.
So, Will My Garmin WearOS Device Take me Through A Triathlon?
A: Almost certainly not!…single sports only please.
Those of you looking for a rich and immersive experience with your imaginary Garmin Connect WearOS app would be disappointed. The sports component of its app would merely display the basic sport info and, no, CIQ apps would NOT be possible either (they would need to be WearOS apps of course!!). You want to link your Muscle Oxygen sensor or your bike’s aero sensor?...forget about it in WearOS.
Here are some of the screens from the WearOS app that Polar developed for the M600. Personally, I think they look very good – these are actual screen shots taken with WearOS by me on an Android smartphone and joined together. The workout screens contain a decent amount of the ‘required’ information for sports but no bells and whistles. In terms of the information that is provided, I can’t see Garmin delivering much more than this for sports usage. At least not initially.
The activity/sleep stuff could leverage non-Garmin apps on the watch BUT then Garmin would need to sync that data back to Garmin Connect to ensure that the watch buyer becomes tied into the overall Garmin Connect offering. Garmin will not want you looking at your sleep data on Google Fit. Really.
Problems? Other Points
There are always problems. The more optimistic amongst us will remember that Nietzsche probably once said that ‘a problem is a solution just waiting to happen‘ but in German.
- Someone could quite easily buy the Garmin WearOS watch and then use the Endomondo app or the STRAVA app to capture sports data. Grrr that means they won’t be tied into Garmin Connect
- Except…down the line they might be.
- Oh. And of course, Garmin make the money from the sale of the Watch. Which is where the initial money is made in any case.
- Someone could ‘just’ be buying the Garmin WearOS watch because they want a more sport-focussed Android-friendly device that’s a bit more accurate than most of the alternatives.
- And that’s a problem? How so?
- Someone could buy a Polar M600 and run the Garmin WearOS app on it.
- I suppose that would be a bit weird and would certainly be confusing from a branding perspective.
- But hey, that would potentially be directing a Polar user towards Garmin too.
- (Garmin could possibly restrict this. For example, IIRC the Polar WearOS app only runs on the M600)
- A WearOS platform with hardware that supports cellular connectivity (from Garmin) could well be an interesting test bed for some of Garmin’s future ‘connected’ services that require internet connectivity when away from home (without using a connected smartphone)
- The most likely ‘problem’ is that the market opportunity is seen to be too small for Garmin once various caveats are added. There are also relatively low barriers to entry. And a notable amount of internal resources would be needed to be put onto what might just be a peripheral project.
Nevertheless. You can be CERTAIN that Garmin has thought about this.
Will it happen?
Most of you reading this (and me) are sporty types and may even call ourselves athletes; sometimes. Maybe we sometimes forget that there is a MUCH bigger market out there for ‘activity’ and ‘fitness’ devices. We know what we want from a sports watch and, maybe, WearOS struggles to deliver that…but the market of ‘not us’ is BIG. Really big.
The kerching factor ($$$) IS there for Garmin.
Garmin’s current devices simply do not compete effectively, head-to-head with WearOS and WatchOS and probably never will. They don’t have the beauty and depth of (connected-) functionality. Developing a directly competing infrastructure to those two behemoths is simply not going to happen; at least not by Garmin. Clearly, WatchOS is closed to Garmin hardware and so the only way Garmin have into a more connected, prettier and feature-rich world IS via WearOS.
I’ve said before that, longer term, even the likes of Garmin could fail as they fight the tech juggernauts of Apple and Google – not forgetting the juggernauts of the future from China that many of you might not even have heard of. Google will continue to support WearOS as a strategic imperative, WearOS WILL prosper in the future. Getting on the WearOS bandwagon, in my opinion, would be a good strategic bet for Garmin.
How good will WearOS be in 3-5 years time? I don’t know, but I’d bet it would be better and more able to handle some of our more rigorous ‘needs’ for sports!
Yet, Garmin may well see it differently. Maybe their future is seen through the apptastic eyes of the partly shielded world of CIQ?
One thing I know for sure. Other companies ARE, ABSOLUTELY, seeing things broadly how I see them in regards to WearOS. Other companies WILL AND ARE actively planning WearOS sports devices.
If Garmin don’t make this move pretty soon then, at some point in the not too distant future, they may well realise their mistake.
Will it happen? I’d say 50:50.
Will it happen in 2019? I’d say NO…20:80