2020: Futures Garmin Forerunner 950XT, 940XT, 920XT, 910XT Opinion Piece

Garmin 930XT - Shape of the distant future?
Garmin 940XT – Shape of the distant future? (Definitely not, I know) Source: designyourway.net

This is an opinion piece, so, onwards to the imagined 940XT.

(I’m going to write about the imagined/likely Garmin 930XT in May 2015)

Now we are moving to 2020, a few more years further on. Things will have changed; but they will be recognisable.

This is of course a fantasy review where I will give my opinion of where Garmin triathlon watches are heading in the long term.

Of course this really applies to where triathlon and ‘wearable’ technology in general is heading as well. Some of the suggestions, below, are a bit silly (to me) but then again some things that other people do are silly to me as well. But they (other people) still do them. There are lots of people out there who want (perhaps not NEED) different things to you and I. And even if they are apparently ‘silly’, many (most) of the things I’m going to talk about already exist; in some form in any case…

New apps and devices are just starting to take advantage of the convenient position of ‘the wrist’ by using accelerometers,  wireless networks, gyroscopes, biometric sensors and GPS. It’s not just about devices that we WEAR connecting with each other it is also about them connecting with what we might even swallow or implant.

Let’s assume technology will move on a bit and that triathlon/duathlon/running will be similarly popular to now. A bit more or maybe a bit less. But popular enough to remain a large market.


You look at your 910XT/920XT or Fenix3 or 630 and you see it has got a LOT of stuff (metrics) already on there. Much of it is useful to some people. Some of it useful to all people. With the addition of technique metrics (RUNNING DYNAMICS: vertical oscillation, ground contact time balance, stride length, CYCLING METRICS ON THE VECTOR: pedal smoothness, torque effectiveness and more in early 2015) in the 920XT, then: is there MORE that can be USEFULLY added? You could add left/right running ‘power’, measures of body sway, standing/seating, degree of horizontal position in the pool, elbow height (swim), elbow sway.

So ‘stuff’ (metrics) can be added but I’m really clutching at straws to say what that ‘stuff’ could be and, let’s face it, many of my suggestions for metrics will be of peripheral use at best. Although perhaps temper this with when I originally wrote this article only to find the new cycling dynamics announced for late 2014 to be quite a step forwards for Garmin Vectors, bringing them closer to some of what the WATTBIKE can do. Temper it too with CONNECT IQ that will allow all the less useful metrics and displays to be ‘easily’ added.

Perhaps then the best hope for new USEFUL metrics lies in measurement of body chemistry? We already see HRV analysis of heart rate and leading into training effectiveness and recovery tools (like firstbeat in the 630/930/EPIX/FENIX3 but also apps like bioforcehrv). These give us post exercise feedback for our next session and/or recovery. Of course this is already ‘there’ with the lifestyle/sports wrist bands that you wear 24×7 and also much of the effectiveness/recovery info is already built into watches and the likes of Garmin Connect. I think this will all get much slicker and somehow better integrated into the plans we make or the feedback that comes to us by email or by bluetooth to an app on our phone (FIRSTBEAT ATHLETE already takes a first stab at this by dynamically planning the load ahead each day based on today’s already achieved load). Perhaps the 940XT will know which rep to stop the session on with the body already having achieved the optimum potential adaptation from only half the initially planned session? So here we are talking about the device MANAGING your training with some degree of dynamism. Perhaps lactate levels during the session can be fed back to extend or shorten the rep? Maybe using something like an improved and miniaturised MOXY Muscle Oxygen Sensor?

Some of the metrics might come in with cheaper 3rd party equipment more available to the masses (delivery though Suunto apps or the newly announced Garmin ‘apps’ / CONNECT IQ platform). But, really, I can’t see how this fits in with what is available on the watch other than there being a ‘configurable’ space which apps can populate eg a metric for a display.

Or could it?

Perhaps the watch has better inbuilt sensors? perhaps DIRECTLY measuring HR (without a strap) or maybe it could measure things like blood lactate? Quite possible (Again, MOXY, but smaller). Look at the near innumerable sensors in the Samsung simband.

Source: ehealthnews
Source: ehealthnews

Perhaps there could be more of these band type sensors? Maybe a HR wrist band? a lactate wrist band and so on? A strap for each measurement function (or of course all combined). So I guess here a multitude of new ANT+ sensors could give the watch more stuff to display.  Look at this crowd- funded project for example: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/echo-h2-hydration-lactic-acid-and-glucose-sensor or look at Valancell who suggest monitoring tympanic temperature, blood oxygen, pulse pressure and so on.

There already exist ANT+ sensors to measure oxygenation in muscles during exercise (MOXY) and other sensors that you can swallow such as sensors to measure and transmit core temperature.

Perhaps these metrics can also be better incorporated into in-session analysis telling us that the session needs to be upped a little bit or stopped or eased off. Perhaps alerts telling us to eat now! Sleep now! Exercise now! Our own self-purchased Big Brother could be watching us.

All plausible I guess. Maybe some, like RUNTEQ sensors (2015), first become a high end tool for coaches before being rolled out to the masses.

Form Factor

We’ve assumed ‘it’ will be a watch?

It could be a band. That seems obvious based on ever-more complex bands currently being released.

Times life index watch
Source: Timex : Life index watch

It could be a flexible screen to wrap around your wrist or some form of permanent device attached to your skin as envisaged on the Timex Life Index Watch to the right or 7 day AMPStrip’s patch.

It could be a HUD (Heads-Up-Device) beaming info onto the inside of a helmet visor a-la-military. (These are already on crowd funding sites waiting for you to invest in their development! Edit: Indeed in October 2014 we have https://the5krunner.com/2014/10/27/oakley-partners-with-garmin/ and similar prototypes already exist for swimming)

The screen MUST improve. A Hi-Res colour touchscreen will come soon enough (the 920 appears only a short way off that). But. Look at the earlier image. It could be a band with a hologram, maybe with a voice-activated or alert-activated display that changes to the appropriate ‘screen’ automatically.

Undoubtedly there will be an smartphone-app alternative to a sports watch/band as the Samsungs and iphones are already increasingly ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible. Yet somehow I can’t see many of us always carrying around a Samsung S8 or iPHONE 13 in transition. So there will still have to be some device that can handle the rigours of a race perhaps in addition to some other more ‘convenient’ way of displaying or recording data whilst training.

Maybe, just maybe, implantation of some sort of CPU is possible. Part of the CPU is used to record exercise stats and do computations inside your body? That data could be streamed live to the internet or when you get home or to a small device you are carrying. (I wouldn’t wear one but someone will).

Too far fetched?

Epidigital patch
Epidigital patch: Source: Core77.com

Don’t forget tech from 7 years ago, there were no smartphones to speak of and few of us had broadband.

Well how about the patch to the right? With an Epidigital Patch, you don’t need to wear a watch at all. Nanobots are impregnated into the patch, which are absorbed by the basal layer of the epidermis to create an “animated topographic time-keeping image on the skin.” The nanobots dissolve after several days leaving no lasting trace on the skin. Source http://www.oneandco.com. OK, 6/7 years time maybe not! But patch-technology was at CES 2015.


Bluetooth/ANT+/Polar’s coded analog signals. Lots more devices are dual-band . Some new devices (4iiii Viiiiva V100) provide ‘bridges’ across the frequencies and more besides.

So the trend is towards working with everything. But this then loses a stranglehold on each individual market eg with the Ambit3 focussing only on Bluetooth.

ANT+ will never work underwater and neither will Bluetooth. Something needs to change there. That something could be support for another standard OR it could be support for another way of getting, for example, HR data in water – such as an optical HR band (they already exist) or some sort of store during exercise and stream-later solution (already exists with the Ambit3, rumoured for Garmin in 2015)

Connecting to your phone of course exists now and can be used to upload data or your position. Your family can track your every stat during your IronMan because, yes, they really are as interested in triathlon as you are. 🙂 . This is possible now.

Perhaps we could connect to our competitors and be alerted to where they are? The British Road Cycling team sure needed that at London 2012. (Indeed Wahoo ELEMNT proposes to do this in late 2015).

But there will be NO MAGICAL protocol that is all prevalent, that can go underwater and up to satellites. ‘Frequencies’ already exist. You can’t invent new ones you can just USE new ones that already exist.

Running Sensors

I can see more sensors being developed to measure or estimate every last element of technique. ANT+ belts that do this already exist but aimed at a more professional market and there will be several models released in 2014 and 2015 (RUNTEQ mentioned above and MOOV also).

The Wahoo TICKR-X HRM starts to combine the functions of several sensors in one place (as does the Garmin HRM-RUN), the trend of consolidation will continue as will the trend to measure other bits of the body.

Indeed look at a watch like the Forerunner 225 or the Epson SF-810 or the adidas SMART RUN or even the Microsoft BAND: as many sensors as possible (including optical HR and an accelerometer) are being crammed into the WATCH and NOT into external pods.

Bike Sensors.

Whilst Garmin can probably work on more detailed metrics on Pedal Smoothness/Efficiency, what else is left to meaningfully measure? In-session position? (wobble, fore-aft position, estimated aerodynamic-ness, power through the stroke)

Swim sensors

Perhaps some sort of navigational feedback to reduce sighting efforts. In session position, horizontal? (Edit: Actually I’ve seen a Garmin patent for this kind of thing – doesn’t mean it will become a product though)

Definitely a ‘power’ meter paddle.

Audio Feedback

Currently we get beeps and buzzes. Perhaps we can get a lovely Irish Accent to get our left elbow a bit higher rather than turning left at the next junction as at present (satnav)? “Time to fuel”, “You have completed 4 laps of a 10 lap course”,”you have sweat too much, drink more water” – see these things could be useful-ish. (Edit: Suunto to introduce audio feedback Q1/Q2.2015 and TomTom Runner 2 and Garmin 630 start to do this in Q4.2015)

In reality

Much of the newer stuff that I’ve seen as prototypes or on crowd funding type sites are truly innovative. I suspect their market is probably initially limited to triathlon/sports professionals – ie from a medical/ coaching angle – rather than competitors. But to make money these devices will in many cases need to be sold to us, eventually, in the mass market. Or, the problem, as we have just seen with the AMPSTRIP there appears to be MUCH more money to be made in the medical sphere.

In reality I think we’ll have a lighter more flexible watch with a colour touchscreen. It won’t do that much more than now as 2021 is probably only 2/3 new product cycles away for even the biggest manufacturer – but ‘it’ will look prettier and cost more. The dreaded HR bands will be replaced, to a degree, by wrist straps or be built into the watch or measured in some other way.

Since first writing this in April 2014, many of the original ‘predictions’ have become real products; some even by Garmin!

A bit of a boring conclusion, perhaps, but the future often fails to live up to science fiction dreams. Would today’s watches have been unimaginable 7 years ago? I think not; looking back at my Polar s720i – they look pretty similar now. We still have HR straps and rubbish screens and the internet and mobile phones existed then. And watches have been around for many decades. Sorry to disappoint 🙁

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