Garmin is 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
- Just-powered devices – Generally Garmin makes 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.
- 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 model‘ 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 to what we see on offer today.
- Complex platform – Garmin CONNECT and CONNECT Mobile are comprehensive products covering Garmin’s wide range of products from Triathlon to Golf; and a 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 relevant 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.
- 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.
- 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 Ultrarunner.
- 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 to do well in the market.
- 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 into your sports data platform.
- 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.
- There will always be 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
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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