Garmin – Beating Everyone Else?
The Fitbit Sense, Apple Watch 6, Coros Pace 2 and several pure sports watches to be announced in the next year all pose notable threats to Garmin’s continued growth, albeit each in subtly different ways. I covered that before in “Beating A Garmin Edge“. Let’s take a different tack here, narrow things down and explore how, perhaps, Garmin can beat the smartwatch competition.
Garmin has the financial ammunition fend off attacks but are they firing it in the right direction as they set off on their R&D fuelled offensive?
Here is the status of the overlapping battles that Garmin currently wages in the Activity/Wellness/Sport arenas:
- Sports & Outdoors
- Cycling – the undisputed leader
- Outdoors – the undisputed leader
- Other – mid-range to high-end leader
- Smart Watch
- Tech – a player, competing against Apple, Wear OS and many others
- Health & Wellness – a player, competing against the insights from Apple, Fitbit, Wear OS and others
Garmin knows that continued leadership through innovation works in the sectors where they clearly lead. But bigger prizes are at stake in the larger smartwatch tech and health sectors. Unfortunately, every other company knows that’s where the big prizes are…Samsung, Apple, Fitbit, Oppo, Huawei, Huami…it’s a long list.
How can Garmin kill the competitors off, one-by-one? If at all.
A two-pronged approach is needed to more proactively get rid of Fitbit – TECH and HEALTH
Fitbit seemed to be doing a great job of running itself into the ground and the Eu has helped by stopping the Google rescue…at least for a while. However, the recent Fitbit SENSE and Fitbit Versa 3 together look good and seem to offer Fitbit a chance of prolonged, independent survival. However, this week sees both Garmin’s new swipe at Fitbit with their Venu SQ plus Apple’s announcement of the Apple Watch 6 SE (lower price version of AW6)…ouch! One way of looking at these two announcements is to see Garmin stealing Fitbit’s more sporty users and Apple stealing Fitbit’s Health and tech conscious users. Not a good week for Fitbit whichever way you look at it.
Despite Fitbit’s nice social, health & activity platform, I just can’t see a peripheral, proprietary OS (FitOS) winning out here. The only plausible future I can see for Fitbit is being owned by Google, adopting Wear OS and becoming the consumer-face of Google Health. But this specifically means a future embedded with Wear OS, despite what you might think about its flaws.
We’ve also seen speculation of Facebook buying Fossil which might sound ridiculous but Oracle looks set to acquire the US operations of TikTok…now THAT is ridiculous. A cash-supported Fossil could cement the future of Wear OS and, in the process, help a Wear OS-aligned Fitbit.
Is it sufficient for Garmin to counter this in tech terms by just integrating with Google Health and providing their own app and access to free CIQ apps?
If I were Garmin, I would still be mindful that I perhaps can’t do payments as well as Google and neither is it easy for me to get maps onto mid-range, or cheaper, devices. Integrating voice tech into Garmin’s ecosystem is going to be tricky and music may become tricky over time, although Garmin does a great job with music right now. Adopting Wear OS pretty much solves all these problems overnight.
With the excellent Suunto 7, Suunto seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion to me. Although the downside for Suunto is that the battery limitations of Wear OS contradict many of the requirements of their longstanding customer base. For Suunto, Wear OS is effectively a punt at a subtly-new customer base, whereas for Garmin it would be a punt toward capturing customers from customer segments they have targetted for years. [eg Garmin would port the mass market Venu SQ to Wear OS, whereas Suunto has, sort of, ported a cut-down top-market Suunto 9 to Wear OS]
So, a single Wear OS watch from Garmin, perhaps even one that looks like the Venu SQ, will stick another knife into Fitbit, a separate knife into Fossil and significantly curtail Suunto – a perennial thorn in Garmin’s outdoor fitness side.
Messy? Perhaps. Disruptive? Yes. Too distracting from ‘the mission?’ Maybe.
Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Huami and co
There are many, different twists and turns when competing with these disparate companies. Garmin simply can’t compete at the low-end price points where SOME of them operate. Garmin can and will undertake a few forays here and there but ultimately this is a competitive space and margins are tight. Garmin wants volume (market share) plus decently high margins – the cheap sub-$150 smartwatches don’t deliver that.
The higher-margin business in this space occurs where Samsung and others rely on piggybacking own-brand watch sales from own-brand phone sales. IIRC the stats are that one phone buyer in 10 buys a partner watch for each Apple AND for each Samsung phone that’s sold. However, once your phone sales catch a cold (Samsung) then your watch business sneezes too. You are in danger of being a one-tech wonder who relies on phones and we can all see that ‘peak-smartphone’ is already here.
There will be ebbs and flows here as good phones rise and fall. Ultimately though I can’t see any end game for smartphones that isn’t either spelt ANDROID, IOS or ‘regional Chinese monopoly’.
Garmin is not going to kill off any of these companies by itself. It needs to let Apple, the SE Asian brands and the Google Alliance fight it out, so Garmin just needs to play nice with Android and iOS and keep the support going for Garmin Connect.
Q: How do you become more active and join the Google Alliance? A: Wear OS.
Q: How do you help everyone else fail without getting too involved? A: Just keep supporting Android and iOS, maybe release something like the Venu SQ
Apple is just a decent battery and 4 buttons away from destroying Garmin’s foothold in their iOS territory
Apple’s job is easier, they merely need to help their monopolistic empire gradually take over new territory. Slowly. Slowly. They need to progressively differentiate their Watch product as part of that strategy 😉 eg multiple price points and introduce a new round watch face. Next, Apple ‘just’ ports the whole Watch-shebang over to Android and sits back and smiles at the over-sized hand-grenade they will have just thrown at the rest of the world.
I’m still not sure why Apple hasn’t already done that. After all, Google has ported Wear OS over to iOS….can’t be too hard 😉
Garmin taking on the Apple watch, however, is a much more serious challenge where Garmin fight a rear-guard action against proven tech that’s also a lifestyle statement. The only way that I can see Garmin holding out is to keep doing what they are doing and providing a superior sports watch offering that plays nice with iOS. However, Apple is just a decent battery and 4 buttons away from destroying Garmin’s foothold in their iOS territory. Once that foothold is compromised, and it’s already NOW being compromised, then Garmin starts to retreat. Perhaps, fortunately for Garmin, Apple appears not to be too interested in taking out Garmin…just yet. They have more strategic fish to fry.
Aside: Here’s Why Apple Won’t Let their Watch work on Android
- Validates non-Apple phone. Apple wants to sell iPhones, historically the big money has been there for them
- The Apple Experience – at least in principle, Apple wants to create a seamless experience across all its device types (debatable)
- Cost of replicating many Apple apps in the Android environment (debatable)
The End Game
Whatever end game plays out in the medium term, to me it makes sense for Garmin to support Wear OS
- It helps put the boot into Fitbit and, maybe Fossil
- It gives a secure space to retrench into as Apple becomes more dominant.
Or you could just release another identical-looking product with a few features enabled/disabled.