Polar Vantage V3
The Polar Vantage V2 was only released towards the end of 2020, yet Polar recently sent out a survey asking for the opinions from existing owners on what features to include in the next-generation Vantage V3.
I’ve reproduced the survey further below and added a few options. You can look at the results of votes made here or vote on what you would like to see in the next generation of Vantage
A question like, “What features should be in the Suunto 10 or Polar Vantage V3?” is existential in nature. Of course, Polar/Suunto do know what direction they want to take their products and these types of questionnaires are merely a part of the market research. However just because they have a view on the future of their products it doesn’t mean that it’s the correct view. The future is a notoriously unpredictable beast!
So, this article looks at some of the issues Polar and companies like it face as they compete with the global, well-resourced competitors that you already know about (Apple, Garmin, Google, Samsung…)
Q: What is the Vantage V Series?
It is important to understand the ethos of the Polar Vantage sub-brand as the next generation V3 needs to sensibly follow what has come before. The ‘V’ doesn’t stand for anything per se but it is the prefix for Polar’s premium multisport watch. Here, I mean premium in terms of
- premium Pricing
- premium Features
- premium Build Quality
- superior heart rate offering for the prescription, monitoring and analysis of fitness.
Q. What is the market opportunity?
Leisure activities are rising generally and the triathlon sports are probably all growing individually as is triathlon as a whole. Perhaps Covid-19 has given more of us the incentive to exercise more to further positively influence this trend.
Significant numbers of people are getting richer and countries in Asia are becoming ever-more important geographic markets.
Individual markets can be sliced and diced in many intricate ways but the gist of it is that significant numbers of people exist who want to spend relatively large sums of money on sporting tools to support and guide their efforts in sport. There are lifestyle elements to all of this and there are significant crossovers to how our technologies get ever-smarter and ever-more integrated.
If you divide up the total market into chunks of people who behave in similar ways and really understand them, then you know what you need to put in your product to incentivise them to buy it. Maybe you call them Weekend Warriors or Wannabee athletes or Mamils or whatever.
But if you work in a tech company then you will find you have to deal with a lot of tech-focussed & powerful people in your company. They’ve just invented something like ‘a better touchscreen‘ and they want to sell the benefits of that tech, perhaps to people who don’t really want or need it.
There are always arguments like “Tech can create new markets” and there is certainly truth in that, there is also the tech that has led some companies down the wrong route and away from the customers that could have made them richer.
The Scale of the Market Problem
Fitness, smart & sports watches represent a vast market with many individual opportunities.
Polar is interested in the sports & fitness watch markets between $150 and $500. At the low end of that pricing, the market segments are hugely competitive and at the top end, Garmin has the high-price/high-feature argument well and truly won. Surprisingly, at the cheaper end of the market, there are relatively inexpensive products that have many smart features and/or many sports features.
‘Somewhere in the middle’ requires good marketing, a good product and a dose of good luck. In that middle ground, you might well come across Apple who have awesome marketing, an unbeatable SMART product and who just don’t need any luck or you might come across Coros churning out features on a weekly basis or you might come across an older, discounted Garmin that still has more features than your current top-end product.
The dilemma that Polar and Suunto face is that they will never, ever, ever compete with the features of the Garmin Fenix 6/7/945/955. Never. So they need to take a different tack or strategy. Any such strategy will rightly make them focus on specific opportunities but the problem is that Garmin, despite its conservatism, is a nimble company that can react within a year to an emerging opportunity…if it wants to.
Reactions to the Problems
Problems are, of course, merely solutions just waiting to happen.
Before we get onto specifics, here are some broad ways forward
- Research the most wanted features and introduce 2 or 3 of them to a very good level of execution
- Target specific multisport niches/segments and do them really well
- Lower the price, that strategy might work for the likes of Coros with the feature-packed Pace 2.
- Go smarter, more smart features from a Wear OS strategy might work for the Suunto 7
- Boost margins by offering customised aesthetic options like Suunto – it can be easier customise change straps, materials and colours than add a new feature.
- Focus. Tidy up, simply make everything they’ve implemented work completely properly. Excel at something.
- Introduce more physiology metrics – people like to learn about themselves, even if it’s based on inaccurate or irrelevant data (in the poll below we see SpO2 ranks highly, is that useful for a multisport watch?)
- Invest in a different kind of marketing. If you look at WHOOP, it’s clear that you don’t need the best tech to perform EXTREMELY well. Perhaps it’s best to invest in someone like Ryf or Farah. Better still get some of the mega-rich endurance sports superstars to invest in your business and they will then go off and be ambassadors for you (a la WHOOP)
and so on. But you can hopefully already see neither one simple strategy nor one new feature is a solution to the problem.
Plus many of those broad ways forward need to be considered in terms of the cost of implementation, the availability of internal coding resources, the time to market and more besides. Garmin has hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank, they must have 100s-strong R&D/development teams, and they’re already working on that new feature that will pop onto the market in 2023.
Polar/Suunto just don’t have those kinds of resources and that is a key limiter.
In a way, Suunto has it harder than Polar. Suunto 9/BARO is specifically competing with the Garmin Fenix 6, which is the best adventure multisport watch…ever. Navigation features are even harder to get to market than raw sports features and, to make matters worse, there are myriad ways that people want to use navigation, I could list 10 or 20 navigational must haves’ that Fenix competitors don’t have. As we have seen, Suunto 9 is exposed to competition from new entrants like Coros…Garmin Fenix CANNOT be taken on by a new entrant.
Some Simple Answers that, of course, are beset with difficulties
People like checklists of features. One person needs this feature and another person needs that feature. For each feature you fail to include, your target market becomes smaller. (Death by a thousand cuts)
Features can be hard to implement in terms of time, money and labour. Once you have ‘features’ at the same level of breadth and depth as Garmin then you create a formidable barrier to entry that is next-to-impossible to surmount in any meaningful way. Remember that.
Everyone knows the solution. It’s an app store of some sort. That’s why Hammerhead Karoo 2 could become bigger than Wahoo Elemnt ROAM, that’s why Polar tried the M600 and why Suunto has the Suunto 7 running Wear OS. An app store lets you build your feature set with the help of third parties, even the mighty Samsung will probably bow to the inevitable and move from Tizen to Wear OS this year (yep!). Yet the ‘obvious’ app store solution is more than just a feature and is hard to implement, it may even require existing tech to be rebuilt from scratch…IDK. Even then the Wear OS app store doesn’t necessarily give you excellent SPORTS or NAVIGATIONAL features to the same level as Garmin Fenix, although the sum total of all Wear OS app features would probably beat the Fenix feature set.
That said, I contend that Suunto and Polar do not have the resources to create a proprietary app store, perhaps not enough apps would be developed in any case and therefore Polar’s ONLY option to get help from 3rd party developers and pre-built features is from Wear OS, which they’ve already tried and which doesn’t lend itself to serious sports usage and certainly not for multi-day adventure navigation. Wear OS will go on to better and greater things that we will see more of this year but they will be baby steps and not the quantum leaps in hardware capabilities that Suunto and Polar need in 2021-22.
A final point to add on that, a bike computer is a ‘big’ device and can more easily accommodate a larger battery. On the wrist, Wear OS would need a MASSIVE battery (HUGE) to create a device with 20 hours of GPS recording time. Interchangeable batteries or batteries incorporated into a strap might be novel solutions to the battery+size conundrum but they create further issues themselves – eg would a replaceable battery be water and dirt-proof?
Our own biased advice
Someone like me might suggest improvements that are biased toward my sporting experiences and uses, for example, to re-invent a Garmin watch with a twist eg along the lines of
- Become the most accurate sports tool (oHR and GNSS…but that is HARD)
- Do running properly and become the go-to running watch…track mode, trail mode with tile-based map overlays
- Do triathlon properly with a running focus – FE-C trainer control, ANT+ sensor support, transition automation, proper customisable multisport profiles, proper swim,
Unfortunately that ‘twist’ would be added to Garmin’s feature portfolio within 6 months. Back to square 1.
Someone like you might suggest a social and security focus with features around challenges (you need a community first), location sharing, fall alerts, music and the like. Someone else would proffer other pearls of wisdom.
The point here is that we often just give answers to solving our personal problems. Even if Polar made some of these changes we would probably have something else to add to the to-do list the next day.
My solution for Polar would be to make a bold move rather than fiddling with Vantage Gen 3 features, perhaps something like this
- SHORT TERM: Track mode 😉 plus…
- Short Term: Get some serious brand ambassadors to buy shares in your company, they’re the ones who have millions of social followers. Being in the UK with only a passing interest in the NFL, I don’t really know who this guy is but ambassadors like him are who I mean – Patrick Mahomes (too late Whoop already have him)
- Medium Term: Do running properly. Lots of people run and always will. Competing for the runner who buys Garmin Enduro is easier than competing for the triathlete who buys a Garmin 945. Triathlon is too complex to do completely properly.
- Medium Term: Think who is more vulnerable & least nimble, Garmin or Whoop? Direct your next product toward their customers, knowing that Verity Sense is technically better than WHOOP
- Medium Term: A recovery ring is a very good idea, even if it’s only for nightwear. You know what HRV and recovery are already. You were leaders there 10 years ago when only you, me & Firstbeat had heard of it!
- Long Term: In the absence of your own plans for a proprietary app store, you know what to do. You probably have some in-house expertise in Wear OS.
Hey, that’s my 2c. I guess I don’t know that much about Polar compared to any single individual who works there. But my sense is that Polar needs to start to gamble a little more with a portfolio that includes slightly riskier product ventures. Some might fail, one might be the next WHOOP.
Please feel free to comment or criticise below. Or just look at the poll PLEASE REMEMBER that results are skewed toward the kind of person that reads this post and visits this site. Although I reckon that’s probably similar to the kinds of people that would be interested in a Vantage 3!
Recommended Reading: Polar Vantage V2 Review