Hammerhead Karoo 3 – likely improvements and possibilities
It has been two and a half years since the launch of the Hammerhead Karoo 2, and a year and a half since SRAM acquired Hammerhead. During this time, the Karoo 2 has received regular updates, moving the product in a positive direction. However, there has been one setback due to Shimano’s instruction to SRAM to stop using Shimano’s proprietary mechanism to access Di2.
The Karoo 2 is a performance Bikenav and stands as one of the top options available for cyclists, certainly deserving consideration alongside Garmin or Wahoo’s competing products. What sets it apart are its excellent touchscreen and display, as well as its overall navigation experience, which is highly impressive. While Wahoo focuses on utility and Garmin aims to expand features and capabilities, Hammerhead strikes a middle ground, providing a visually impressive design that functions well.
Wahoo seems to face limitations imposed by its choice of hardware, and while Garmin also faces similar constraints, the latter can allocate substantial development resources to overcome these limitations. In contrast, the Karoo is essentially an Android smartphone operating on Android 8 (Oreo). This hardware choice opens up a plethora of achievable future options that surpass those available to Garmin or Wahoo. SRAM simply needs to capitalize on this advantage and generate profits in the process, although it’s not an easy task given Garmin’s dominant market share.
What does the future hold for Karoo 3?
For the time being, let’s assume that the new Karoo will only be available in the same existing size, without the introduction of a larger size option.
It remains uncertain what level of resources the company is dedicating to the development of the new Karoo (no intel). In the likely event that resources are constrained, we can expect to witness only a moderate evolution of the hardware, following a typical 2-3 year iteration. At launch, this would result in a largely unchanged user experience and near identical level of software features.
However, in the less likely scenario that SRAM is investing significantly in completely reimagining the product, we could potentially witness some plausibly remarkable changes. A variation of that could see an advanced hardware platform released ‘soon’ (no intel) that is primed for future software transformations between 2023 and 2025.
The upcoming Karoo 3 is highly likely to feature moderately revamped hardware, running on a slightly old version of Android eg v12. With this hardware upgrade, we can expect several improvements, including enhanced battery life, a new multi-band GNSS chip for more accurate positioning, and an upgraded touchscreen. These changes will contribute to the overall iterative progress of the device.
However, although not impossible, the Karoo 3 could incorporate a micro OLED display. Most likely, the improvements we will see will be more incremental in nature. For example, there may be a slightly larger display that fits within the same case size, a touchscreen that performs better in extreme conditions, and enhanced screen readability under challenging circumstances. While these improvements are moderately noteworthy, they won’t have a significant impact on the Karoo 3 commercial fortunes in the marketplace. Nonetheless, they will attract a few new customers and appeal to existing owners who are looking to upgrade. The Karoo 3’s impact on the world of cycling technology is unlikely to be revolutionary with only iterative changes to hardware.
Despite the presence of a faster-charging battery in the Karoo 3, it is important to note that it will almost certainly not feature solar charging capabilities and hence no game-changing features that will significantly shake up the industry.
Hardware changes that would shake the market
To attract new customers, the Karoo 3 will need to enhance its hardware capabilities to better support new use cases. One effective approach would leverage existing SIM capabilities and incorporate improved connectivity for smart features. Another approach might leverage the power of Android’s voice control could provide a more seamless user experience and expand the device’s smart functionality.
Furthermore, introducing a product similar to Garmin’s Charge power pack would be highly beneficial. such a power pack would address concerns about battery life during long-duration usage, providing a practical solution to circumvent customer complaints.
Hammerhead has the potential to introduce new metrics or expand the range of available metrics on the Karoo 3. They can also incorporate new shaded metrics or dials to enhance the visual experience. Customization options such as aligning numbers within cells, displaying more metrics per screen, or allowing users to change metrics mid-ride could be implemented as well. While these improvements may not have a significant impact on sales volume, they would contribute to the satisfaction of existing Karoo owners – albeit NOT to the company’s bottom line.
In terms of mapping capabilities, a notable improvement for the Karoo 3 would be the ability to support additional map layers or map types, particularly benefiting trail and gravel riders. This enhancement would better cater to the needs of that growing market segment and provide a more comprehensive mapping experience.
However, the most impactful step that Hammerhead could take is to open up the Karoo 3 to third-party developers. This would enable the creation of hundreds of new capabilities and functionalities that neither you nor I have even considered. Similar to Garmin’s approach, third-party developers would be able to design specialized data metrics that integrate with third-party data sources, sensors, online services, and apps/widgets. This would unlock a whole range of possibilities, including advanced metrics related to physiology, training, racing, environmental feedback, and more. BUT a real edge would only be gained if key 3rd party features could work live over a cellular connection (battery hungry).
While the Karoo already integrates with popular route providers and analysis platforms such as RwGPS, Strava, Komoot, Training Peaks, Golden Cheetah, and Suunto, more partnerships of a similar nature would not significantly impact sales figures. The platform is already connected-enough to the key sports data platform…it needs to be even more cleverly connected.
One potential approach for SRAM is to bundle the Karoo with their groupsets as part of new bike packages. This could involve retailers offering the Karoo at a significantly reduced price or even for free to buyers who are already investing a substantial amount in a new bike. While this strategy may have appeared more attractive a year ago when high-end bike sales were booming, it remains a sensible move to gain market share. However, it’s important to note that Shimano remains a significant player in the market with its groupsets, which sets clear restrictions for Hammerhead’s growth via the new bike market.
In terms of market segments, SRAM groupsets tend to perform well in off-road bikes and the high-end road market. Leveraging the off-road segment could provide a potentially easier route for Hammerhead to expand its customer base, compared to the more Garmin/Shimano-dominated road market. As a result, a durable case and more off-road features might be in the offing.
Considering SRAM’s history of acquisitions, such as Quarq and PowerTap, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities to envision a deepened partnership with Suunto. Both companies offer high-quality endurance products that complement each other in various ways. While the idea may seem appealing on the surface, I don’t think we will see a takeover any time soon.
Takeout SRAM/Hammerhead Karoo 3
Karoo is technically well-placed to conquer the world of bike computing. It needs to start by first winning over your group of cycling mates!
From a commercial perspective, it is strongly placed as part of the SRAM group. But that position is weaker than the ones held by Garmin and Wahoo.
I don’t have a feel for the global visibility of the SRAM or Hammerhead brands. Even though I personally see a lot of marketing from both companies I suspect the average cyclist doesn’t. Nevertheless, I would bet money that the average cyclist would be FAR more likely to have heard of Garmin and Shimano.
Indeed some of the next-gen features I’m hinting at above, like voice control, were introduced a couple of years ago by Bryton and others. But you’d never heard about it, right? It’s not just about technology…it’s marketing too.
So Karoo 3’s success probably won’t come down to the next Wow Feature but rather instead to more impactful marketing.
Easy to say. Hard to do.
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