2020 GPS Roundup & 2021 GPS Hopes | Sport
Let’s have a look at most of the movers and shakers in 2020 followed by some hopes for 2021.
My headline for 2020 would be something like “Chinks in Garmin’s dominance start to appear and Apple secures the top spot in smarts“
Despite CV-19, 2020 has been a hectic year for me and GPS sports devices more generally, with only a few short periods of respite. Close to the product launch events, few of the new products seemed that monumental but, looking back, there were some good ones whose impacts may genuinely shape the various market segments over the coming years; although that viewpoint is more from extrapolating the likely actions of a new market entrant rather than regarding with awe a new killer feature.
The Edge is simply the best-featured, bikenav-cum-performance device…at a price. Couple that with the previous year’s, cheaper Edge 530/830 and Garmin is saying to the competition ‘OK guys take your best shot‘. These are crazy-good bike computers that must be impossible to beat on a feature-by-feature basis.
Bang! Hammerhead then comes out with Karoo 2 which addresses pretty much every previous criticism worthy of merit levelled at its predecessor. And you know what? It’s prettier than the Garmin and better-made and better packaged too. As things stand today this will be my main bike computer moving forward, it has 98% of the features I need which matches 99% from the Edge.
Whilst Wahoo might excite us with new products in 2021, it is Karoo 2 in 2020 that has delivered a REAL contender to Garmin. A contender that might change the current hegemony. The repercussions could be immense or it could fizzle out in a few years…but I think not.
Apple Watch 6 (AW6) and Apple Watch SE should clean up the iOS part of the market for smartwatches above the $200 price point. There’s virtually no point in buying anything else, even the AW3 beats competitors trying to gain a foothold at the lower-priced end of the market. AW6 is WAY from perfection but it’s closer to it than anything else. Add in the iSmoothRun app and AW6 transforms into a well-featured sports watch.
The WearOS-cum-FitOS (Fitbit) space is in commercial turmoil. Wear OS is not keeping pace with overall smartwatch market growth and Google just can’t give the Fitbit shareholders all that money yet for regulatory reasons. The Fitbit Versa 3 & Sense look good despite the recall but I’m not sure they will have much of a longterm future in the Google stable in their current format. My hopes and suspicions are that this is the nadir for Wear OS/Fit OS and that they will go on to greater things once they combine, starting next year. Thus the jugglings of yet more products from Fossil like the market-leading Gen 5 and the also-market-leading 😉 Suunto 7 (best Wear OS Sports watch) have had only restricted impacts this year but, given the Wear OS market sector stagnation, both Suunto & Fossil are now in a reasonable position to take an upward trajectory in the future. And what is to come is better devices (hardware/software), perhaps like the Ticwatch Pro 3 GPS…but there are so many Wear OS watches that could potentially be released by several companies and it’s only very few that will make a splash big enough to be felt. Fossil is a big boy and makes a big splash whenever it dives in but Suunto has released a simply great product which makes a splash in its own right…Suunto 7 Gen2? that could be dangerous to all!
The “Other OS” sector then encompass many sins as well as the smartwatches from Garmin like the Venu SQ and from Samsung like the Galaxy Watch 3. Samsung is having a reasonably good year but ultimately is tied to the vagaries of its own smartphone sales. On the other hand, the Garmin Venu SQ is a punt at Fitbit Versa/Apple SE. It’s a long punt close to the opposing end-zone and its difficult to see what the opposition will make of it…but more importantly, what does the crowd think? Is anyone buying Venu SQ? IDK yet. If so, this mid-market ripple in the pond by Garmin could eventually morph into a veritable Tsunami…or not.
In terms of triathlon, I would argue that this was a ‘nothing year’ from Garmin. Grrr. They delivered the Forerunner 745 but that’s simply a small version of the 945. Nothing wrong with that, it matches a definitive market need but there was no massive hardware change or strategic jump forward. OK, there was track mode and the small thing of the acquisition of Firstbeat but this was very much a consolidation+software year. I kinda suspect next year will be more exciting from them in this space.
With such a year from Garmin in 2020, it made it easier for the Coros Pace 2 to be a standout success which has caused the company a lot of problems…nice problems! Mainly, they can’t make devices fast enough! So Coros is seriously challenging Garmin around the $/£200 price point. There’s volume to be had there. If someone like Coros can sell volumes here it will significantly add to their financial war chest for whatever comes next from them. Garmin will be uneasy rather than outright nervous, Coros seems to have decent backers behind it BUT Garmin is LIGHTYEARS ahead in terms of market share and overall corporate capability.
Then comes the Wahoo Rival. To me, this was the biggest splash. It’s super-easy to belittle aspects of it but the thing is this product will grow in capability, just like the ELEMNT bike computers before it, and it WILL become a thorn in Garmin’s side at the higher-than-average price points where more profit is to be made. Those who initially belittle it run the risk of becoming bemused by its success.
Polar would have had high hopes at the start of 2020 as their product managers knew what was coming with 3 notable releases ie the Grit X (outdoors/run) and Vantage V2 (pro tri), not forgetting the lower-end Unite. But none of this felt like a revolution to me. Evolution, certainly. Revolution, no. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for the Vantage V2 and it will get many outings on my wrist in 2021. It beats the Rival for now but I’m just not sure how long that will last for me and the vagaries of my personal tri/running preferences. I suspect this time next year I will be using the Rival heaps more.
There were a few machinations in the outdoor world. Grit X being a half-hearted attempt to dethrone the mighty Fenix and there were others too. For me, the noteworthy event was Garmin’s SOLAR tech. I don’t have a feel for exactly how impacting this will be but, for sure, there is a sizeable chunk of people who think they need it. The biggest searches I saw around Black Friday were all Fenix 6 related, including Solar.
Regular readers know that I have a regularly updated futures post here that also covers future tech. So I’ll try not to regurgitate too much of that extensive and detailed read.
NB: None of the following reveals info where I have an NDA…obvs. I have had zero info from the vendors about new products from Polar, Wahoo & Suunto.
Bike: Hammerhead has rolled their dice. It’s now up to Garmin and Wahoo to respond. The Elemnt Bolt Gen 2 would be the obvious next device from Wahoo and the next move from Garmin is likely to be Plus version of the 530/830. You’d have thought that Garmin was running out of features to add. Maybe. Though LTE and SOLAR would be two plausible ones! On the other hand, Wahoo is more likely to deliver much-improved hardware alongside platform extensions. Bryton, Sigma, Lezyne and the rest still won’t have an easy ride at cheaper price points; luckily for all of them, there doesn’t appear to be a rush of new entrants at this price level like we are seeing with smartwatches.
Smart Watches: I’m guessing we might see an Apple Watch 7 in September 😉 Apple won’t port across to Android but at some point, they will get rid of the crown and they will change the rectangular watch face or, at least, add a circular format. That really could happen in 2021 (patents exist including for battery-straps). Those hardware changes alone will keep Apple incrementally growing market share. The alpha-competition to Apple eventually takes the form of Google but it’s just how that point is arrived at is not yet clear…Garmin could have more good years as could Samsung but more likely we will see skewed global market shares with Chinese brands selling big numbers at home in China but much less elsewhere, no doubt a mega challenger will eventually arise from China. Huawei would be favourite going by market shares but they have a few issues with Western governments, perhaps insurmountable ones.
Running/triathlon: Suunto 5 Gen2 anyone? Where can Coros take the Pace 2? (probably nowhere hardware-related in 2021) – if I were them I’d be putting ALL my resources into Pace 3 & the app right now. We might see something new from Polar but it would just continue the relatively obvious, incremental strategy that is evident from the Grit X/V2. I can’t see any new entrants emulating Coros here and the real threat comes to the sector when Jo Public realise that their smartwatch is perfectly good enough for their running/triathlon endeavours and a specialist watch is probably a waste of money. If/when that happens then the dedicated sportswatch market crashes into financial difficulties. I’ve said my Wahoo Rival piece but I’m 99.955% sure that Garmin has some serious cards yet to play…a 9…a 5 and another 5. Forerunner 955. This will take top-end triathlon watches to stratospheric levels of cost but is ‘premium’ where the market is heading? – yeah…I’m gonna buy one on day one ;-), I mean you guys tho, the sensible people! Will you buy one too? Maybe you could just use something like the Transition app on your Apple Watch instead?
Outdoor: Suunto was quiet and we are due a Suunto 9 Gen 2. Yeah, there’s going to be a Fenix 7 at some point soonish. No biggie 😉
Your thoughts very much welcomed below in the comments.