Garmin’s Weaknesses

Polar Vantage V Review, Polar Vantage M ReviewGarmin are a dominant player in the sports tech market covering fitness, running and cycling. They are a large, listed company with a clearly superior competitive position to most of its competitors – although not superior to companies who have significant interests in other fields like Apple, Google – WearOS, Samsung etc.. And perhaps not superior in the future to some well-supported challenger brands like Huami. But Garmin reign supreme in the more techy side of sports tech for the masses…no-one can produce a better Garmin Fenix 6 than Garmin. BUT any company with a bit of pedigree, a bit of creativity and financial backing CAN better Garmin in specific areas. At least they CAN if they are SMART and LUCKY.

Putting price competition to one side, it is by choosing areas where companies can realistically BETTER Garmin that they might survive and prosper. At least for a while longer…

But it’s not simply a case of being better than Garmin at ‘something’. That ‘something’ has to be what a significant number of people need or want badly enough to switch to and buy your product AND almost blind them to your product’s shortcomings in other areas.

This post is some brief thoughts on the weaker areas of Garmin’s offerings in running and cycling as I see them

  1. Just-powered devices – Generally Garmin make the right financial call to just give their devices just enough power. Over time the devices may well slow down with new firmware updates and any new CIQ apps you add to them. It’s not so noticeable until you use competitor products, which I do a fair amount. Having said this, products like the Fenix 5 Plus range, in my experience, seem MUCH more appropriately powered and run smoothly…for now.
  2. Complex products – This is a double-edged sword. Garmin’s large range of features is probably their main reason for success. You just know ‘that Garmin’ will do the job when you are not yet sure exactly what ‘the job’ entails. Many of Garmin’s new features are added as an extra menu option ‘somewhere’ in the existing and already complex menu system. If the interface was being redesigned from scratch by a team of Apple designers you can be CERTAIN it would be a VERY, VERY different Garmin.
  3. Complex platform – Garmin CONNECT and CONNECT Mobile are comprehensive products covering Garmin’s wide range of products from Triathlon to Golf; and wide range of functionality from SLEEP to ROUTING. I know the platform, products and their functionalities quite well and can navigate them reasonably well. Newcomers cannot always do the same as the platforms are very complex, intricate and simply contain more irrelevant stuff than relevent stuff to any one user. The same criticism applies to the CONNECT platform as I would level at the devices -ie you just can’t easily find the ‘stuff you want’.
    • Wahoo, Hammerhead and others have minimal platforms. Until you’ve used a Wahoo for a while you don’t really appreciate what you have been putting up with for years.
  4. Accuracy (ohr gps) – I’ve banged this drum for a long time. The drum is wearing out. Considering that accuracy is stated by MANY Garmin customers to be an IMPORTANT facet of the products AND that Garmin products are priced at a premium then the accuracy of oHR and GNSS/GPS is NOT as good as it should be from just about every higher-end Garmin product. Garmin product accuracy (ohr, GPS) varies from ‘meh’ to good…but, at Garmin prices, it should be excellent
    • Polar and Suunto clearly demonstrated YEARS AGO that it is possible to produce a sports watch with superior GPS.Hammerhead Karoo Review bikenav navigation
  5. Aesthetics? Again, a double-edged sword. Whilst the overall hardware design is generally excellent and usually well thought through, a typical Garmin’s screen quality is very ‘meh’. That compromise has historically been made to ensure there is enough juice in the tank to deliver market-leading battery lives to support the needs of even the most awkward Ultra runner.
    • But aesthetics is always going to be a personal choice. You ‘just’ have to find lots of people who like your product’s specific aesthetic.
  6. Openness – Garmin is open to STRAVA (workouts to STRAVA and segments from STRAVA) and is open to 3rd parties via CIQ apps. With some limitations, other 3rd parties can pipe workout files to and from Garmin Connect. There may be some costs there that represent barriers to smaller companies but let’s say it’s generally open. But it is not truly open and certain facets of integration are either not allowed or made difficult for a wide variety of reasons.
    • A competitor to Garmin can leverage their open platform as a means to potentially gain access to 3rd parties’ functionality without having to develop it themselves – eg RideWithGPS and Wahoo.
    • But a truly open platform is risky in the long-term. If all you make money from is the sale of your device then another ‘open device’ can easily take its place as your customer has not been locked in to your sports data platform.
  7. Apps? – Garmin’s CIQ has some absolute gems of awesomeness – ranging from 3rd parties like DWMAP to Garmin’s own running Power app (I’m talking about the app not the data in it 😉 )
    • You would have thought that one of the first things a company with limited resources would do would be to create an app-based infrastructure where others will create (for free) the functionality you don’t have the resources or inclination to do yourself. Amazfit, Apple, Google, Fitbit, Samsung…..etc
  8. There will always be a narrowly focussed features like Polar/Suunto’s ability to produce layers of laps but, in reality, such examples of niche functionality pose little threat in and of themselves to Garmin

So.

Q: What would you do? How would you beat the mighty Garmin with one fell swoop of a smart watch?

And I don’t think ‘Just make cool stuff‘ will excite venture capitalists too much and that response still doesn’t really answer the question in any case…although it sounds good as a sound-bite.

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Jimmy C
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Jimmy C

“Until you’ve used a Wahoo for a while you don’t really appreciate what you have been putting up with for years.”
Amen! My purchase of an Elemnt bolt after years with BUGGY garmin bike products pretty much means I’ll never touch a garmin watch. Now I laugh when I see friends with garmin units trying to figure out where to find a lost workout/file and other nonsense from tech that has no business being that lousy at that price point. Have never experienced that with wahoo. (Now let me bang my drum for the release of the elemnt rival before I get weak and buy a polar vantage)

JonasD
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JonasD

Another Wahoo Bolt user here and I cant wait to see if Wahoo ever release that watch. I am in desparate need of a running watch so I am also trying to stay strong. What I really really like of the Bolt bike computer is the user interface and how easy it is to use plus set up with the help of the element app. What I miss is to be able to manually load structured workout without having to use trainingpeaks or similar subscription based service.

Crispin Ellisdon
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Crispin Ellisdon

The challenge is that Garmin have captured the “one watch to rule them all” market; grated that can make them complicated and other manufacturers do some elements better (GNSS accuracy being the one most often cited). But if you want ONE watch that does: running, cycling, swimming, hiking, climbing, MTB, indoor cardio, strength training with rep counting, 24 hour HR and stress tracking, steps tracking, some smart watch notification features, Navigation with maps, ABC features, waterproof to 100m, can be operated when soaked (buttons rather than touch screen), connects to a wide range ANT+ and BLE 3rd party sensors, more than 3 days on a single battery charge, looks good enough for daily use (even evening wear with a quickfit leather or metal band), a mature ecosystem to sync and share data, the list does go on…. then Garmin is where you end currently. You just have to accept that Garmin watches are a ‘jack of all trades and a master of none of them individually’; but the sum of the parts makes the compromise worth while for most punters. For a Garmin to have any serious competition, someone has got to do all that better (would need huge resource)… Read more »

Rui Pereira
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Rui Pereira

The chinese are after the low hanging fruits, for now I just see them doing copycats. Suunto has great looking sport watches and cater well to trail/outdoors type of buyer, but in general lack a “wow” factor to make you change plataforms (and movescount needs to go away). Polar take ages to move, which usually spells death, but they have a good track record and plataform, that might save them for a while. A lot is hanging around the just released Vantage V (Vantage M will look dated quickly). For once I agree with DCR, just make cool stuff, be it hardware, software, algorithms, etc. Make cool stuff and buyers will follow.

Drew O'Brien
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Drew O'Brien

I’d offer reasonably priced accessories. It is outrageous the prices Garmin charges for watch bands. Here in Australia, we got stung $699 for the FR935 WITHOUT a quickfit band. So to you’d need to pick up two quickfit bands to make use of the system (and have a band to change to). So add $69.00 x 2 to the price… Or risk going with a shoddily made chinese knock off brand and have your rather expensive watch fall off. And what about some sort of future proofing in these devices? They’re bloody expensive but seem to be obsolete within 12 months due to a rather nuts and unpredictable refresh/replacement cycle. I’d also employ some kind of software/UI design team to make an app that wasn’t a total hot mess. I’d offer all the metrics and Firstbeat analytics…and stay with me here…interpret them for the user in order to give actionable targets. Not just useless “insights” like “you’ve done more steps before lunch today than usual” or “a consistent bedtime is important”. Less data for data’s sake. I’d launch a device with a stable and bug free software – one that doesn’t require 34 updates over a 9 month period –… Read more »

Peter
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Peter

Agree!
I stated on the Garmin FR 645 forum that Garmin still can’t get the basics right, with the resultant fall-out 🙂 (Context – me coming from TomTom, Polar & Suunto, and pointing out the horrible GPS running tracks of the 645)

Glad to see other objective opinions on this assertion.

John Bushby
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John Bushby

Very interesting and thought provoking article. Maybe I need to experiment outside the Garmin envelope.

runner-33
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runner-33

I think if Garmin would get the basics right they could have an even more dominant position in the market. Examples? – Sleep tracking: That’s a mess. Garmin often gets the fall asleep time right, but the wakeup time is almost always wrong. Even when playing around on GCM in bed after an alarm on my Garmin watch this counts as sleep time. Now that could be sorted out really fast, couldn’t it? And then there’s the sleep stages display that does not feel right. I don’t know if my Fitbit is correct either but at least they display stages that seem plausible to me. I.e. I mostly know in which part of the night I dreamed and this correlates with Fitbit REM phases but not with Garmin REM phases. – Alarms: After they (finally) sorted out the problem of alarms randomly disappearing after sync, the alarm settings on the watch and on GCM are still not the same. For example, it is not possible to setup an alarm once on GCM, only on the watch. GCM just allows alarms for one or more weekdays. Which repeat themselves if not turned off! I consider that to be basic functionality that… Read more »