Garmin’s New Tech – 2020-21 GPS, NFC, Solar, LTE, Firstbeat

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Garmin’s New Tech for 2020-21 – Exciting Rollouts Ahead

Garmin has already released its key pieces of new tech that it will expand on over the next few years. Let’s take a look at what we can expect to see with some of these pieces of tech being recent introductions to the Garmin stable and others perhaps past their peak on the innovation cycle.

Garmin Leading Edge Sports Tech – Background

I want to look at 4G LTE, NFC Contactless, Solar PV, GNSS/GPS and Firstbeat and cover what more Garmin will do in this space. Garmin already has all this tech on several models, for example, we have LTE on the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Verizon; Solar on the Instinct & Fenix 6; Contactless payments on top-end Forerunners; plus GNSS and Firstbeat on just about everything Garmin makes, albeit implemented to varying degrees of capability

4G LTE – Beyond Vivoactive, Beyond Live Tracking

The Vivoactive 3 Music saw a 4G LTE service from Verizon added in January 2019. That’s a long time ago now and we can expect movement on this in 2020 and beyond.

Garmin doesn’t advertise this feature set too well, in my opinion. You get the impression that you have to switch your handset provider to Verizon when you don’t. But you do need a contract with the LTE service provider which is an extra cost. For that extra cost, you can download music and activate the safety features like Live Track wherever you like. It’s possible to also get texts/SMS on the wrist…all without carrying a phone. But you can’t make actual voice calls, it’s just for data, at least that’s the case with Garmin so far.

Cyclists might well see LTE tech as perfect for their next Garmin Edge, indeed Hammerhead let you put a SIM card into their Karoo, why doesn’t Garmin match this? Perhaps we will see this capability on an Edge 530 Plus or Edge 1040 next year? Although I doubt it and I am certain that we will not see it in 2020 on any Garmin Edge device as we’ve already had the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus release. But that doesn’t make total sense, right? It’s an obvious market need, surely? Cyclists want to leave their expensive iPhone at home and not risk breaking it; or some cyclists (like me) have a spare ‘burner’ phone just for cycling emergencies and it’s just annoying to have to carry a phone in any case. Surely it would make sense to be able to text that important message “bike broke come and get me at this GPS point” to your loved one FROM YOUR GARMIN EDGE? And obviously your partner would much rather have your Edge cycling computer permanently enabled for Live Track just to make sure you’re going to the coffee shop and not the pub 😉 even Group Track would become more useful if more of us were more easily visible to each other.

There are a few issues here. Firstly your work phone and important texts will need redirecting form your regular phone number and secondly for any form of Group Track to work usefully, a LOT of your cycling friend’s will need to have and use this tech. There are other issues working against us seeing this any time soon on an Edge. The REAL bottom-line is that Garmin HAS already started this tech on the wrist AND they are HEAVILY rumoured to be introducing more of it onto the wrist this year. There are no rumours of it coming to the Edge.

The leaks from last year (2019) were that we would see a Forerunner 955 LTE this year (2020). Why a Forerunner would be chosen as the next candidate? I’ve no idea, I mean, that’s a nice idea, clever and all. But I can’t see a 945/955 LTE moving Garmin’s share price in the right direction. ie I can’t see it being a financial money-spinner, at least not in the short term. But the recent rumours also pushed the existence of a more plausible 945 LTE ie a variant of the existing model (as well as the 955 and 955LTE). We would normally expect some new tech first on a Fenix rather than a Forerunner and there are no Fenix 6 LTE rumours. Maybe Garmin has decided to share some techy love around the other models first this time?

Hmm. Maybe not.

The only new reason I can see for LTE on a Forerunner multisport watch is to support an imaginary new RACE TRACK service where your live race position and performance stats are broadcast to friends or to a race leaderboard service for sports broadcasters or to STRAVA segments. eg something like RTRT but from the wrist.

Yet, the sources of our rumours in this area are good/reliable which poses a dilemma when stating the following expectations of mine

  • 2020 – Others say we will see a Forerunner 945 LTE, I would have thought much more likely would be an LTE version of Venu/Vivoactive 4 Music (Verizon and/or other providers)
  • 2021 – Fenix 6 Plus LTE, Garmin Edge 530 Plus LTE, Forerunner 955 LTE.
  • 2022 – An OPTION or STANDARD FEATURE for all top-end Fenix/Vivoactive/Edge/ Forerunner models

GNSS/GPS – Beyond Sony

There is some HIGHLY interesting tech circulating in this area right now. No, it’s not another, better and more energy-efficient Sony GNSS chipset. No, it’s not quadruple support for Beidou, Glonass, GPS and the false dawn that was Galileo. No, it’s not GPS 3 nor is it based on SBAS.

There is the possibility of some off-chip tech coming VERY SOON to make significant improvements to accuracy. I’ve heard some people talk-the-the talk and now I am waiting to run-the-run myself ie do a test run with it as I’m not quite sure I believe the claims….but they really DO sound plausibly able to give runners PROPER accuracy even in urban canyons. The watch that the tech is bundled with and which I hope to get my hands on, is from an ‘unexpected’ supplier, let’s put it that way.

In the medium-term, say maybe 2021/22, closely related tech to what I am talking about here, may well find its way into the chipsets used by several watch companies. Unless Garmin buys the mysterious company (I don’t think it will as the tech has wider uses and thus the company may well be too expensive for Garmin).

To be clear: off-chip tech would need to be licensed and implemented by the retail brand but the on-chip variations of this tech would need to be implemented by the likes of Sony/Mediatek/Qualcomm/Apple.

Take Out: Potentially Uber-Exciting, requiring me to get several extra spare pairs of lycra shorts to contain all that excitement. But is it a ‘New Hope’ or a ‘False Dawn’?

NFC Contactless

NFC is the tech that supports contactless payments and we see our credit cards supported by Garmin, Google, Apple and others. I use this tech regularly around my sports and even more so elsewhere, prompted by the need to shun cash because of CV19. Garmin has the tech working very nicely but seems to need a commercial agreement with every individual bank and so its rollout seems to be slow. Conversely Google deal at the level of ‘Visa’ and ‘Mastercard’ for GPay.

The next Garmin model in 2020 that we will see with NFC will be the Garmin Descent MKII Dive watch (soonish!). That’s no big surprise as the Descent is just a VERY waterproof Fenix dive watch. Any new high-end models like the mythical Forerunner 655 and Fenix 7 will get this tech by default.

But will we see it on a new Garmin Edge any time soon? If we did see it on the 530 Plus/830 Plus in 2021 I would, for sure, use it to make a weekly NFC purchase for my cake and coffee round. It would be VERY useful to have it but the volume of business that would be driven by my own Edge might be $30 a week, at the most!! compared to sometimes a few hundred $£$£ on my Forerunner 945 watch in a good week for Garmin PAY. On average people simply wear a watch more than a bike computer and it’s simply there more often on your wrist when you need it in a shop. ie Garmin PAY needs to take its commission cut from large volumes of transactions that an Edge can’t deliver.

2021: Expect to see this as a trickledown Forerunner feature with not much trickling left to do within the Forerunner range and for it to remain as a mainstay of the Fenix and Vivoactive

Further trickledown is more likely on a Vivosmart or Vivomove than an Edge. But the likely requirement of a PIN number for security somewhat scuppers the likelihood of the former despite it probably being a good commercial fit. Maybe Garmin has a secure workaround for that?

Take Out: It’s a chug-along feature. Same-ol’, same-ol’. And that might make Garmin slower at getting global support for more banks which will further raise the ‘Grrrr’ factor in many of you.

Solar

This is an expensive feature currently on some of the jewels in the Garmin wearable crown ie the Fenix and Instinct. You can rest assured that Garmin will make the tech work better, make it work more efficiently and also lower the cost to make it and lower the price you end up paying for it. However, you will NOT see those improvements in 2020 and maybe not in 2021 either.

For poorer-quality screens (Instinct), this tech makes bigger improvements in battery lives.

Because this is currently a high-cost feature, that surely means that the other sparkling jewel in the crown, the Venu, will be next up for the tech? Sadly, I’m not so sure as the Venu has AMOLED screen tech. Solar is simply more likely to be rolled out first to watches that use the same tech which Garmin class as “SSo instead Solar’s next move is much more likely to be onto a Vivoactive 3/4. I’ve heard no rumours on this but it would be my guess for this Christmas 202, give or take a month or two.

“Edge! Edge!” you shout. Well, sadly, you can shout all you want to, it ain’t coming yet. Maybe the Edge 530/830 Plus Solar will greet us in Spring 2021? It’s possible but there’s another problem over and above the screen tech used. I’m not sure that the Solar Charge calculations for a large Edge screen will be enough to make the tech worthwhile when it would also have to power the higher power consuming Edges. Plus, in any case, the 830 Plus would be a touchscreen model and so, again, this would need new screen tech just for that one model (and the 1040). That sounds expensive.

A more positive note for you Edge devotees might be that your Edge is just always in THE ideal position for solar charging – ie pointing upwards in an unobstructed way. Whereas your Fenix might often be hidden away up a shirt sleeve. So the solar charging maths for the Edge just might pan out to be more sensible than first seems the case.

Firstbeat

The acquisition of Firstbeat could simply be a commercial move for Garmin as they understood the threat posed by competitors gaining easy access to physiological metrics like VO2max that might sway some purchase decisions away from them ie a move to hinder the competition catching up on Garmin’s features. That must be true to some degree.

It might also be a way to make the rollout of Firstbeat features cheaper for Garmin to do across their entire range AND to expand the features across their Connect ecosystem. As an illustrative example, what was once a feature that was too expensive to add to a lowly Garmin wristband suddenly becomes a free feature to add to the band and free to display the results on the app. So Firstbeat tech on lower models might increase Garmin’s competitiveness in the more price-competitive parts of the band market.

I’m sure as well that there are some great tweaks and alternative viewpoints possible on many of the existing Firstbeat feature set. But I don’t see some new ‘magical’ features being plucked out of the physiological ether by Garmin. However, I DO see the clear possibility of a more comprehensive fitness and athletic training system meshed into every aspect of most Garmin wearables going all the way up to pro-level athletes. You can get a flavour of part of that at the following link:

 

Firstbeat – The Last, Secret Metric (adaptive triathlon training)

 

Take out

Garmin is in a strong position to be able to roll out a variety of market-leading features should they so wish. Continued investment in R&D is what makes them able to do this.

Garmin face strong competitive pressures in almost all of their markets but need to implement their new techs wisely in order to maintain the high profitability levels that their shareholders have come to expect.

Thus it is the commercial realities of profitable opportunities that may stop some of this tech from spreading as much as many of us would like. Nice ideas don’t always make money.

 

I talk more widely about futures of features as well as futures of specific models at the following link.

 

September 2020: Sports Watch Update: All new & current Bike/Run/Tri/Fitness Models with GPS. Rumors + replacement dates for Garmin, Apple, Polar, Suunto, Wahoo, Samsung, Fitbit

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33 thoughts on “Garmin’s New Tech – 2020-21 GPS, NFC, Solar, LTE, Firstbeat

  1. “But I don’t see some new ‘magical’ features being plucked out of the physiological ether by Garmin”

    This disappoints me greatly as after lots of aimless running during this lockdown period some magical features are desperately needed to try and get back to where I was in Feb! Otherwise means that training plan beckoning at me will just have to be followed.

    1. John, you just need magic plain and simple 😉

      there are lots of features in FB already there will undoubtedly be some fine-tuning and linking and tweaking. I cant see a new ‘thing’ appearing on the physiological landscape within the boundaries that fb can cover (power+hr).

  2. I still can’t believe that there are no news for the, as you call it, mythical 655.
    I wonder if someone in Garmin decided that 3 models of running watches are more than enough…

      1. You mean dual channel GPS? This should give tens of cm accuracy for Galileo including in the cities. I hope that this happens at some point! Even if it would drain the battery faster. Having an option for a high accuracy GPS mode for running would be great! Like an opposite to the ultratrack mode.

        1. yes it kinda is I know, sorry.
          I’m sometimes never quite sure how public domain some of these things are, so if someone comes back with ah yes it’s obviously XYZ…then off we go.

          1. The idea behind is to rebuild something as like inertal navigation systems for planes into a wrist watch combined with GPS. Similar to Suunto’s FusedTrack. And it seems to me that it’s independed of the GPS chip but uses the compass, gyros and whatever els is available in the watch, plus some AI to make a great track even when GPS is lost (for some short time). I like that idea, would be great to see it in different brands.

          2. it’s a totally different approach and is AI driven. From what I can make out existing tech has otherwise gone as far as it can and is in line with how the airline industry has progressed with strapdown inertial processing in any case.

  3. I really just want a 955 or Fénix with LTE already. I’m tired of bringing my phone on runs. I also have an older phone I use, but swapping sims every morning is annoying too. Please Garmin, make this happen already on a 955 or even 655! I honestly just want to be able to live track and then send some pre-define text messages out. Calling would be a bonus, but not necessary.

  4. Interestingly Garmin and Starbucks just announced a non-NFC (barcode) based contactless payment ConnectIQ app https://apps.garmin.com/en-US/apps/6606530f-68e5-4ba7-885c-f8dba4268cee?utm_source=Americas&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=en-US%20Delivery%2C%20Starbucks%20CIQ%20App%20Announcement%2C%20MCJT-30590

    Works with most devices, including Edge bike computers!

    Considering that Kroger doesn’t support NFC and uses their own barcode based app solution for Kroger Pay, that’s another potential option.

    1. oooh! thank you for that spot. i shall have a look tomorrow. i appreciate it’s a barcode and vaguely recall someone else doing one a while back, i hadn’t thought of that side of it from the perspective of this article…perfectly valid tho

      1. I installed this last night. It’s pretty unsophisticated. Nothing like Garmin Pay with security. This is simply enter your starbucks card number (either through settings on your phone – easy – or on the watch – PITA). It then displays a bar code. So zero security involved here. No verification that it’s your card. I wonder if that bar code includes your device ID that at least they’d have a way of tracking down someone using fraudulent card numbers.

        I’m definitely looking forward to LTE. I hate taking my phone on runs with me, but on the trails, like to have a way to call for help just in case.

        1. so the code links to the starbucks account number
          you collect points with the barcode
          but you can also spend with the bar code

          oh dear…as you say there would have to be a way of stopping it being duplicated. I suppose if someone collects points for you its ok but not if they then spend your money on a latte

  5. Very interesting article…thanks for the overall view. By the way what is your guess about the Descent MK2 release date ?

      1. Thanks…well “Q3 2020” means this summer, can we be confident on that ? Very little leaks on this watch/computer…:-/

        1. there is other info in other sources but i don’t have a date.
          q3 could be 30sep. if it’s delayed beyond that then the likelihood is a slip to 2021 then as its a dive watch you’d have thought it would be pushed to march earliest.

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