I met up with the CEO of a small bike computer company over the weekend. We had a nice chat and it was great to hear how he thought he could differentiate his product from Garmin and do well in some of the larger, more competitive global geographic markets in 2020.
It’s pretty obvious that beating Garmin at their own game is going to be nigh on impossible, yet it can be done. As this CEO pointed out, Garmin is not as dominant as you might think at lower price points and similarly not so dominant in certain geographic markets.
This post gives some thoughts from me about how I think a Garmin Edge can be beaten in the eyes of some customer groupings but it’s also a call out for your opinions and, even if you don’t want to venture an opinion, then there’s a poll where you can give your 2-cents/5-penneth worth of wisdom.
Clearly, competing by price is an obvious way to go but such a strategy would only work well for certain kinds of bike computer at certain price points. eg a sensibly featured device at $120 might win out over a similarly featured device for $20 more purely because of the price and, perhaps, the limited knowledge of the buyer who is relying on the advice of a shop assistant. But for an informed buyer looking at Edge 1030 levels of price, then would even a $50 cheaper product tempt away any significant number of buyers to an ‘apparently’ well-featured device from a new entrant?
The COUNTER-evidence about lower prices leading to higher success would be Wahoo’s products. The ROAM could be considered to be over-priced when compared to the Edge 530 on a feature-by-feature basis but it sells well enough, perhaps for some of the reasons outlined in the next couple of sections.
Some aspects of how Garmin Edge devices work is good. Yet the Edge devices are complex in many areas and Garmin know this and are starting to introduce changes to usability with the 530/830 models and on some watches.
This is probably one area that has serviced Wahoo well and they are one of the very few companies that seem to be beating Garmin at their own game in some segments of the market. Whilst you and I might love our gadgets, there are a VERY large number of people who just want an easy-to-use device that does the job (whatever that means) and does the job intuitively and straightforwardly…ie it’s usable
Reliability In Use / Build Quality
Garmins generally have a good build quality but their reliability is definitely NOT great. Even with the latest Edge/Forerunners there have been issues. Advice from 3 years ago was that you should wait until 6 months after release before buying a new Garmin model, unfortunately that is still probably good advice if you want to play it safe.
Again this is another area where some of us might say that Wahoo does well with ‘informed buyers’ who have perhaps been burnt with the unreliability of other vendors’ products in the past. For a bike computer to be reliable in the longterm I would say it also needs a decent build quality.
Coolness / Aesthetics
Garmin Edges look alright in a standard sort of way. By now definition could they be called cool, although SOME of the newer screens on the 830/530 are an improvement.
You would have to put Hammerhead Karoo or Omata in this bracket, they surely are cool to some people, somewhere. Neither Hammerhead nor Omata, however, would be found on your TT bike but if you have brown handlebar tape on your road bike then there’s a good chance you are already clicking those links to find out what those 2 products actually are 😉
LIVE/Onboard Routing Intelligence
I’m not convinced that live, onboard routing intelligence on a bike computer is that big a factor when BUYING a bike computer and even if it is then how would a Garmin competitor propose to beat Garmin’s popularity routing? For routing to be ‘intelligent’ I would say it needs to find the ‘best’ way from A to B, taking into account your many and varied routing preferences such as ‘over gravel’.
I’ve talked to several people involved with developing bike computer routing algorithms, they all talk a good talk but their products ALWAYS fail on a few local tests that I have where EVERYONE cycles on bits of a path that they shouldn’t. The routing suggestions that rely on bike path and roads ALWAYS FAIL to route ‘properly’. Whereas Garmin’s popularity routing ALWAYS gets it right and seems to account for cyclists riding where they strictly ought not to be riding. That might not be true everywhere in the world…just most of it.
Other than Apple Maps, Google Maps, Strava (and similar bike services) I can’t see ANY small company out-routing Garmin’s popularity routing. Simply because any routing decisions they came up with would be based on their data which would necessarily be low popularity as they won’t have that many users.
Map Quality / Type
I don’t ‘get’ this myself. But I know that many of you want certain flavours of map with layers of prettiness and usefulness. Garmin BIKENAV owners will say that they can add extra maps to their Edges easily enough, although it might officially cost you a fair amount of money (hint: you can probably do it for free)
Taking the UK as an example the ‘best’ maps might be those from the Ordnance Survey (are USGS the US equivalent?) so BIKENAVs with those maps already onboard might have an advantage (except that the devices that DO come with OS maps onboard don’t sell particularly well to the segments of cyclists I normally associate with! Maybe people would buy a BIKENAV and double-up the usage as a hand-held?
External Information Services
Clever, connected services like incident detection, weather alerts and group-ride functionality are all, well…clever. But Garmin already does them and generally does them well. Even if Garmin hasn’t yet linked to a certain piece of external info then I’m pretty sure they could link to it relatively quickly via a smartphone or 3rd party
Would there really be any extra mileage from having an onboard SIM to access these services without the need for a smartphone?
I have an external SIM on my Karoo but don’t rely on it at all. I even prefer NOT to cycle with a smartphone (but often do), yet I’m not sure I really want that connection to the internet on my bike computer. It wouldn’t influence my choice of new bike computer at all.
Maybe you’re different?
More Data Metrics / Special Connectivity
Companies that hope to sell squillions of watches or bike computers based on their ability to connect to a special flavour of sensor or based on an amazing new data metric they have ‘discovered’ are likely to be disappointed. You ain’t ever gonna beat Garmin here…IMHO.
OK, there are a few bike computers that provide special ROTOR-PM-based metrics. I’d imagine that the total number of bike computer units sold is a small subset of the total number of ROTOR PMs sold (go figure, Sherlock!!)
This is a minor bug-bear for me. Many bike computers seem to be relatively laggy when paging through screens and when using them to set up various screens after you’ve just opened the box (I do a lot of that). These typically are Garminesque type devices that are providing a rich ‘user interface/experience’ on a pretty screen.
Some of the more basic bike computers are built on micro-kernels. They must be a PITA to add functionality to but they are quick. They, unfortunately, just all look a bit 1990s.
Maybe there is some speed vs functionality compromise that hasn’t been found yet? I like fast stuff. I like pretty stuff. I want both.
Garmin’s are already good at connecting to stuff. Xplova released a fairly high-end bike computer with a not-so-high-end video camera built-in. It didn’t sell too much.
Is there REALLY any scope for integrating VIDEO or, say, drone control when a 3rd party device like a GoPro can probably do a MUCH better job. Linking to a GoPro by software is MUCH easier than integrating an extra piece of hardware inside your bike computer.
There’s an interesting comment below about doing something like the EXTENDED DISPLAY better than Garmin.
Superior Sports Platform
To out-connect Garmin Connect is going to be VERY difficult if attempted natively and from scratch by the wannabe Edge competitor.
Letting 3rd parties do all the hard work is a great idea but Garmin already does that, to a degree, and in any case, you will then also be trying to out-Wahoo Wahoo as well as Garmin. (Wahoo link to several key, external, sports services)
But remember that Garmin Connect is actually not that great an analysis platform. In several respects, Polar FLOW outdoes it for more serious athletes and could further improve it for the super-serious athletes if they had the will.
This links to the previous point about the openness of the whole platform except this time apps, obviously, provide extra stuff on the bike computer itself.
The cleverness of Garmin Connect IQ is there for all to see. Even a giant like Fitbit didn’t really make their app store into anything super special and now it will likely die a death as the apps are all migrated to Wear OS.
SEVERAL of the non-Garmin bike computers run Android just like your smartphone. The app store is already there…it’s called Google Play. You can get the Komoot app or STRAVA app to already run on a Hammerhead Karoo but, as with Garmin’s CIQ, can you get a third party ‘app’ to replace just one data metric on your screen? I doubt it very much.
Nevertheless, I think ‘Android’ holds potential for a Garmin Edge rival to do something clever.
I was going to write a piece very recently showing the STRAVA app taking over the HAmemrhead Karoo…that would have been awesome. Except I just about started writing it when STRAVA announced their withdrawal of support for 3rd party sensors. #Sigh.
The following, to me, are what I have voted on, below and why. I’m taking as a given that the mythical ‘Garmin Beater’ is reasonably well-made and sensible-looking.
- Price – There just HAS to be a price discount to gain traction in the market and get volume. You need volume because, in the longer term, only products with either decent market share or a highly segmented offering will survive.
- App Store – Any degree of complexity is hard. It’s easier to get someone else to do it for you and link to it or embed it. An app store could add significant depth and breadth to the functionality of the ‘Garmin Edge Beater’
- Something else!! Something innovative, different, clever (OK, OK I ‘ll say it…the WOW factor). I think this will need the new company to innovatively IMMERSE their product in a major ‘other’ sports platform, like these…
- Let’s say if Xert embedded their innovative view on FTP/MPA alongside their adaptive training programs, workout following screen and some new customisable screens all based on a sexy, speedy android device and with deep links to STRAVA…to make things easier; it wouldn’t even need to do maps for me to buy it.
- Let’s say the device is an add-on to an immersive sports experience. So by that, I mean that someone partners with STRAVA to create a STRAVA-rich device.STRAVA recently stopped people pairing sensors to their app so that could signal something like I am suggesting OR it could signal the fact that STRAVA just are interested in non-core activities 😉
- Zwift is looking at building a smart bike. It’s quite plausible that they would want to extend the zwift PLATFORM experience outdoors to your normal riding in some way. Again, an indoors zwift trainer and an outdoors zwift bike computer makes sense
FWIW, and in my opinion, MANY bike computers already have ‘something’ about them which is better than a Garmin Edge, it’s just that their ‘something’ is just one or two bits of innovation or general niceness which, by itself, is not enough to appeal to a large number of consumers.
OK. Have a vote or just look at the results. If you want other suggestions added, please comment further below.