Garmin | Kill the competition | A How-To Guide

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Garmin – Beating Everyone Else?

The Fitbit Sense, Apple Watch 7, 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.

Beating a Garmin Edge – How can a competitor do it?


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?

Different Battles

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 rescueat 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.

Edit: November 2020: OUCH – Garmin introduces comprehensive, advanced, pregnancy tracking. Dig that knife in deeper Mr Garmin, then twist it a bit.

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 Garmin could financially disrupt Fossil by moving into Wear OS it could clear away a large chunk of the Wear OS competition. This might cause Wear OS to die (good for Garmin) or Wear OS might thrive under a Fitbit/Google and Garmin alliance. Removing Fossil would probably lead to more Chinese-style competition in that market…again that’s good for Garmin as Garmin would want to compete in the mid- to upper price bands.

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.

Garmin – A WearOS Watch? Perhaps. More detailed speculation

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 easily 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. The Long Game. 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

  1. Validates non-Apple phone. Apple wants to sell iPhones, historically the big money has been there for them (although iPhone will soon be in decline)
  2. The Apple Experience – at least in principle, Apple wants to create a seamless experience across all its device types (debatable)
  3. Cost of replicating many Apple apps in the Android environment (debatable)

The End Game

Key Point: The global end game is for two dominant platforms. One is iOS. Garmin either destroys Wear OS by disrupting it or usurps it through competition in the Android space.

Whatever precise end game scenario plays out, in the medium term it makes sense for Garmin to support Wear OS to increase the chance of its failure through relatively low-risk, low-cost disruption.

  1. It helps put the boot into Fitbit and, maybe Fossil.
  2. 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.


Garmin 745 Review | Small Format, High-End Forerunner For Triathlon

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39 thoughts on “Garmin | Kill the competition | A How-To Guide

  1. I have for several years been wondering why Apple didn’t just copy the some of the Garmin “apps” like Running, Bike, Hiking.. I mean it can’t be more than a few months coding. I even considered doing it myself as a proof of concept.

    The difficult part would be the Firstbeat stuff.

    If Apple did would probably kill the cheap watches like Garmin 45 and 245

    1. Polar is really not in the game as they don’t do apps. Polar is easily being beaten by e.g. suunto (you either love or hate the polar user interface) or Garmin – when you take the price of the product into consideration.

      1. Their strategy is very weird…

        Vv2 rumored to have Music control(streaming from phone) and still crap navigation

  2. “Next, Apple just ports the whole Watch-shebang over to Android…”
    Never gonna happen. Well, Never Say Never, …. let’s say very very very unlikely, because that’s not the way Apple does business: YOU need to come to Apple, Apple doesn’t come to you. Hint: how many platforms can you develop iOS apps from? (the answer is one).

    1. Money comes to those who go for it. It rarely comes willingly of its own accord

      I’m guessing that porting the entirety of WatchOS to Wear OS might be technically tricky.
      i think apple music is on WearOS but that’s about it

  3. “Oracle looks set to acquire the US operations of TikTok.” I don’t think that’s what’s actually on the table. Oracle is just going to be TikTok’s “trusted tech partner” in the U.S. Not exactly sure what that means, but they definitely aren’t acquiring TikTok’s US operations.

  4. The obvious way Apple could create trouble for GARMIN is to bring out a watch with a MIP-display and several day battery life. I believe Apple could even make it look pretty with their design chops or even source an improved version of MIP. Garmin has failed to push any incremental improvement since the Fenix 3 came out.
    Maybe that is what the AW6-SE is going to be? We don’t know yet.

    1. Agreed, an Apple or WearOS watch with an always on transflective display will decimate low/mid range Garmin sales.

      Short term, better sleep tracking and more polished user interfaces (watch and Garmin Connect) will pull more casual users towards Garmin.

  5. Garmins biggest problem is Garmin and not the competitors

    a) It is to difficult for the “low-end”-users to choose the correct model Just take a look at all the recent discussion on 45, 45s, and 245 more.
    b) To many problems with Fenix 5, 5+, 6 on important issues like GPS accurancy and battery issues.
    c) When a Watch is passes the first year – they seem to stop envolving the product and only tries to fix GPS and battery issues. Just take a look at e.g. Fenix 5+ (Not supporting latest CIQ version, Not updating FW with PacePro and more).

    Existing users moving from older forerunner versions, to Fenix 3 and then to 5 (5+) are probably reluntant to buy a newer version as Garmin does not seem to care about existing customers and only aiming for new customers with new hardware.

    Apple could actually win that part of the battle if they can create the right software and a battery that last for at least 20 hours of GPS/Bluetooth tracking.

    1. I hear ya!
      I’m hoping next year will see some seismic shifts on gps accuracy
      battery…yep, it just needs inventing. AW6 will only get incremental gains to enable them to properly do sleep tracking before a daily, morning recharge.

      1. I am a many year (10+) Garmin watch user. Currently a Fenix 5+ owner, and one of those users that have a feeling of being abandoned on a train-station because my 1.5 year old product is “too old” and that had a price of 5400 DKK or 670 GBP/725 EUR. Furthermore the Feinix 5+ had issuses more than the first year of ownership with GPS accuracy and quite fast battery comsumptions that was just resently fixed for the majority of user (actually last week).

        As a result to this, I would probably say that I am NOT going to do an upgrade to 745 or 955 because of the concerns of quality – and when the issues they have are fixed.. a few days later a 755 and 965 is released.

        I am very sure that many users feel like i do. Being both tech-guy and a trainiac i am in no way a happy customer. And I would probably switch to another product if such product exist. Unfortunately to my knowledge this is not the case, and therefore I will stick with my Fenix 5+ for a year og two more, hoping and dreaming for better garmin-days…

        So again bottom line is that Garmins biggest enemy is garmin itself.

      2. i hear ya and sympathise
        i’m a trainiac too but do you NEED any of these devices? The tech, to me, is 80% fun and then 20% usefulness. I seem to remember being faster when i had a stopwatch (admittedly i was younger!)

      3. So you recently stopped being resentful about the GPS accuracy? 😛 (ku’ ikk’ lade være).

        I hear you, my first FR210 could take up to 15 minutes to get a fix (admittedly in China, but still…) and it never ever got a firmware update. It taught me not to buy old Garmin models. The 735XT has served me well, but we barely have gotten any updates for the last 1½ years (not counting the two security fixes recently pushed out).
        The recent Garmapocalypse, lack of communication and general abandonment only supports your opinion (and I agree).

        Maybe I should just go for the Coros Pace 2. Makes me wonder about what devil I’ll get there…

        @FTK the only shift you’d see on GPS accuracy is if they start going dual-band (L1/L5). Many phones already offer that, but Sony doesn’t seem to support that yet from their very limited public information. Qualcomm is ominously quiet on whether the SnapDragon Wear 4100 platform supports L5 or not, too (ie: it doesn’t).

      4. Well, it was a win win for both garmin and me… I purchased a footpod – and that fixed the pace pr. minute even in “high building” areas in Copenhagen, and I also bought a Stryd to get the Running Power (Because my trainer wanted me to use it).

        To me it seems that both The5Krunner and DC are only somewhat impressed with the Coros Pace 2 and not a fully competitor to a Garmin high-end watch (exept on the price).

      5. regarding the last para. yes i would say that is fair take on about where i come from. dcr can speak for himself
        I’m really NOT a Garmin fanboy but it just becomes childish sometimes to pursue certain lines of argument against garmin. P2 really is good and is great value for money, garmin is a little bit more polished around the edges in terms of the whole offering and its openness. when someone makes a watch that can do what i need it to i will switch in a heartbeat…like I have with my Wahoo bike comp.

      6. @PalleA

        Do we NEED a high-end watch? I’ve been using a Stryd pod as well since December last year, and it seems to give me all the data I want/need for my running.

        Sure, there’s things like HR, sleep etc, but the Pace 2 it can do that as well. The only thing I’ve found that it cannot that would be nice, is breadcrump navigation – something I’ve used about a handful of times over the last four years. Music is a “maybe” for me.

      7. It’s very frustrating when the only answer to problems with high end tech gear is to purchase a newer model. It hurts to have to replace a working peace of kit with something that is very similar but has that one extra feature you need today. It’s even worse when you know you could be in the same position again before you know it.
        This feels like a self own in Garmin’s current model.

  6. Kai, if maps are part of a high-end watch then to me, yes. I often travel the world (at least used to) due to my work, and without a map and a little bit of routeplanning, then I would be totally lost. In earlier days I kinda was force to do my runnings on a treadmill.

    tfk, I am not a “garmin-fanboy” – I even got banned/messages delete on the Garmin Forums because I was complaining about “things” and suggesting other products. If I take a closer look inside my drawer you will be able to find Polar and Suunto watch units.

    But generally speaking a smart-watch has a way higher pricetag than other watches and they are supposed to be smart, but frankly these devices are becoming unsmarter faster and faster, just and only because the company behind that product chooses not to update it.

    1. Palle,

      Great point about the travelling and needing navigation – I know exactly what you mean (got lost in Den Haag once while running).

      Agree on the SmartWatch becoming a DumbWatch thing – I had the same experience not just with the 735XT but with my Samsung SmartTV, that turned into a DumbTV in 2-3 years because the built-in browser didn’t/couldn’t follow the evolving browser standards, so I could no longer use it to watch MotoGP directly (besides the browser was dog-slow, from day one).

      “Planned obsolesce” dates seems to be moving closer and closer to launch day with every year 🙁

  7. As much as Wear OS is tempting, switching over to it would be bad, you see, I’ve disassembled my Garmin Watch, and you know how they achieve really good battery life? By using a Cortex M4 microprocessor, along with optimizing to the last bit to reduce power consumption:
    They use a Cypress SoC with a single Cortex M4 processor clocked in at 100MHz, 128 Kb of ram (on my model). Very power efficient.
    They use a 1MB flash integrated into the SoC for the kernel, along with a separate 16mb rom for the OS and the applications, furthermore, if you have a music variant of the watch, it will have a separate 4gb dram chip that is not powered when not in use to further reduce power consumption.

    As Wear OS is basically Android, these optimizations wouldn’t be possible because a) Wear OS requires a relatively beefy processor and way more ram, along with the apps being bigger and consuming more CPU resources. Besides, Wear OS lacks the in-depth health tracking options as the proprietary OS found within these watches.

  8. If sleep tracking and sleep analysis is important everyone should stay FAR away from Garmin. Shockingly bad 😡 Reading a book, watching a movie or even brushing my teeth late at night = me being in REM sleep. Waking up every morning having to edit and shave off several hours of non existent sleep on the markets most expensive watches. Ridiculous..
    My point is there are elements Garmin really isn’t that good at.

    1. If you want good sleep tracking you can’t go past a Fitbit. Only problem is they trail the field on just about everything thing else. Unless you want one watch on each wrist or a sleep watch and an active watch you need to decide which features are your priorities and go with the device that has best support for them.
      And yes Garmin’s sleep analysis is so bad it’s farcical.

      1. Well.. During a period of 6 months I tested all the flagships of Garmin, Polar, Suunto, Samsung, Huawei and Fitbit. You’re right that Fitbit probably has the best and most accurate sleep analysis, but Polar, Huawei and Samsung aren’t far behind. At least all but Garmin manage to report the correct start/end sleep time. Despite the lack of music I ended up selling the Garmin watches and kept the Polar Vantage V. The sleep tracking and recovery features on the V is far superior to anything Garmin has put out. It’s training and fitness tracking is pretty good to.

  9. The only thing keeping Garmin afloat is:

    They play well with nearly every external sensor
    They record sports data better than nearly everyone else (debatable)
    They play nice with all hardware (debatable)
    They have the battery life (debatable)

    If someone else, like Apple, does all of that on the apple watch and better: Game over. Anyone that offers all of what Garmin offers on top of being a smartwatch, it’s game over for Garmin. Not just the half-measures of smartwatch options Garmin offers, I mean a full-on smartwatch with all nice screen, all the smartwatch features, AND can last 30 hours in GPS Ultramarathon mode? Garmin is done. It’s a race to who gets their first, and after Garmin for as long as I have, I have zero faith they’ll be the ones to get their, period. They can’t even get optimized battery systems to work correctly in their closed ecosystem!

    If you’re asking me who that’s going to be in 2020, it’s probably Apple. They’re a 2 Trillion dollar company with a gargantuan install base and a watch everyone wants. Hell, I’m using Android for neigh on a decade now, and even I am thinking of getting an iPhone and Apple Watch for that ecosystem! If they put out a real Apple watch, that’ll do what my Apex Pro does and more (and subsequent Garmin watch equivalent); Shut up and take my money!

    Samsung could get there as well if they, stop, using, Tizen! Also, take their active serious, because they don’t.

    1. They play well with nearly every external sensor
      They play nice with all hardware (debatable)

      These things are only true for part of their product range. Garmin would do themselves a favour by killing off the products that don’t support open standards and allow easy integration with external sensors and hardware.

  10. Nice read. To my mind the things Garmin need to do to cement their position are:
    * Reduce their product range – fewer offerings at each price point
    * Support open standards for software and hardware integration
    * Provide better ongoing development and support for existing models.

    Beyond that I don’t see anyone beating Garmin on their home turf. If my forerunner died tomorrow the only question in my mind is can I justify the upgrade to a fenix or do I settle for another forerunner.

    On the other hand, I don’t see Garmin ever being an attractive option for someone who’s primary use case for a smartwatch is an extension to their smartphone.

  11. What do I need in the watch (beside wrist HR) and why Garmin?

    Accurate pace (especially when doing speed work)
    Customizable fields
    Virtual Partner
    Recovery Time info
    Run/Walk or Preset Interval training
    Great iOS App
    Always On Watch face
    Serious Swimming app
    HR while swimming (very important)
    Kayaking is nice (but not a deal breaker)

    So you can see why I like Garmin.
    But I returned all the watches and getting Apple Watch 6

    Why? Screen too small on the 945, Sapphire has too much glare, 6x too heavy, 6 pro also a little too heavy. 6 and 6x too thick.

    The Garmin watch app is amazing and so is the iOS phone app (and web interface). But the Garmin Watch itself? Even with all the options, it’s still clunky.

    So I’m waiting another year in hopes they can make it thinner. 😞

  12. Good article and it is always interesting to hear differing perspectives. I suspect the Garmin watch product line managers aren’t especially concerned about anything except eroding a bit of the AW expansion. At this point I would argue that both they and Apple need to deeply inspect their own thinking as they need to consider competitors. They are likely at a similar risk to blundering down an arbitrarily self-limiting path as they are to having a competitor suddenly seize market share. That being said, with the entire world experiencing hardship and stability concerns, staying the course is one way to limit uncertainty.

    Many of the suggestions contributors have made regarding AW enhancements are technically great, but I suspect Apple simply wouldn’t consider them because they are un-Apple-like. When the key decision makers in a highly successful organizations ask themselves what the next generation products should look like, the answers tend to increasingly resemble the past rather than anything radically different. It is a natural tendency as a product line that has made money is something you don’t want to sabotage by veering away from your base. Clearly there are decision makers in Apple’s watch org that simply don’t value the battery life feedback they are receiving.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction Coros provokes. Many superior products languish purely because of brand loyalty to products with higher price tags. They would need to be consistently well performing, lower cost, and ship a substantial number of units to be a consistent threat.

    1. Well put.

      I suspect that Apple is more consumer-driven whereas I suspect Garmin is more tech-driven. Both look at multiple product evolutions/generation down the line and underpin whatever vision they have with significant R&D. I agree that worrying about ‘organisational change’ creates inertia

      battery life might be a red herring. it can’t really be improved that much, it’s really saving juice ‘somewhere else’…that’s the stark difference between apple and garmin.
      i criticise apple and garmin a fair amount…yet both have sold WAY more watches than I ever will !

  13. I’m all in with Apple and my experience has been top notch. I have 2 Apple Watch 6 SS. One I wear as my all around watch, the other stays in the charger until I go on my workouts. I’m never without a watch, and the apple watch sensors and data are second to no-one. I ditched my Garmin Fenix 6x Pro after dealing with some of the most terrible data and software bugs. The HR sensor is trash and basically a random number generator most of the day.
    I’ve had good luck with Coros, but without cellular and music storage, can’t do it.

    I hate to admit it, because I HATE being stuck in an ecosystem, but our Apple products, for the most part, JUST WORK. From iPads, Phones, ATV, A Watches. For all of my family.

    1. thank you!
      I largely agree with the JUST WORK line. Garmin features also largely just work as well and from a sporty perspective they are more complex, with the caveat of accuracy that I will answer against your other comment.

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