Polar Vantage V3
More: Polar Vantage V3 Review
The Polar Vantage V2 was released in October 2020, so a 3-year release cycle implies a new top-end Polar is due very soon. Perhaps as soon as the week after the Apple Watch on 13 Sep. I don’t have a V3 or knowledge of one so this article looks at the reality of what Polar is likely to be able to introduce.
A couple of years ago Polar sent out a survey asking for the opinions from existing owners on what features to include in the next-generation Vantage V3, that gave some hints as to what Polar was considering and I’ve also included the results further below from a poll on this site which I know Polar will also have seen.
Table of Contents (Click to Expand)
Q: What is the Vantage V Series?
It is important to understand the ethos of Polar’s Vantage sub-brand as the next generation V3 needs to sensibly follow what has come before. I asked Polar, and the ‘V’ doesn’t stand for anything 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?
Recent 2023 stock market performance figures from Garmin strongly imply that the covid boom period is over but that the market potential is still huge. Leisure activities continue to be more important to a healthier, younger generation and triathlon sports remain popular.
Significant numbers of people are getting more prosperous 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.
Vantage V3 represents a significant opportunity for Polar to get people to upgrade from their V2, Grit X and M-series watches. Polar does have a large and loyal European customer base however it will find it difficult to attract equally loyal customers away from their Garmins.
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 within your company. They’ve just invented something like ‘a better touchscreen‘ and they think it is an obvious move to sell the benefits of that tech, perhaps to people who don’t really want or need it. To an extent, Garmin has already fallen foul of this by justifying higher watch prices with wellness and smart features, selling to people who only want a watch to wear during sports.
There are always arguments like “Tech can create new markets” and there is certainly truth in that. However, 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….let’s see if any future Coros Pace 3 has AMOLED (IDK)… that could be a prime example of what I am talking about.
The Scale of the Market Problem
Fitness, smart & sports watches represent a vast market with many individual opportunities.
Polar is interested in the athletic sports & fitness watch markets between $150 and $500. V3 would slot in at the top of that price range somewhere and, in reality, would target different flavours of runners and some triathletes. Polar’s other watches target the low-end running market and indoor gym/fitness markets.
At the low end of that price range, 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 competent 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 which has awesome marketing, an unbeatable SMART product and it doesn’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.
There is no obvious gap in the market of any size.
The dilemma that Polar and Suunto face is that they will never, ever, ever compete with the features of the Garmin Epix/Fenix 7/965. Never. So they will take a different tack or strategy. Any such strategy will rightly make them focus on specific opportunities but a further problem for Polar is that Garmin, despite its conservatism, is a nimble company that can easily 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 and we’ve already seen Suunto slash higher-end model pricing in some countries in 2023. But is that right for the top end Polar Vantage V3? If it’s $100 cheaper will it sell that many more units?
- Go smarter, more smart features from a Wear OS strategy might work for the successor to Suunto 7
- Boost margins by offering customised aesthetic options like Suunto – it can be easier to customise change straps, materials and colours than add a new feature (Polar already does this to a degree, Suunto/Garmin do it better)
- Focus. Tidy up, simply make everything they’ve implemented work completely properly. Excel at something else.
- Pretty it up. People like pretty. Prettiness is a vital feature for a watch that is intended to be worn 24×7 and also important for people who just want to look good in their expensive lycra when exercising.
- 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 1.5 BILLION dollars of cash in the bank, it must have 100s strong R&D/development teams, and they’re already working on that new feature that will pop onto the market in 2025.
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, 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, more lowly prices and featured watches are exposed to competition from new entrants like Coros…Garmin Fenix CANNOT be taken on by a new entrant, it’s literally impossible.
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 3 could become bigger than Wahoo Elemnt ROAM, that’s partly why Polar tried the M600 and why Suunto now has a quite decent app ecosystem with SuuntoPlus. An app store lets you build your feature set with the help of third parties, even the mighty Samsung has bowed to the inevitable and moved to Wear OS. 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 might beat the Fenix feature set…you’d just have to toggle between multiple apps…a lot.
That said, Polar might 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 because of battery life limitations.
A final point to add on that, a bike computer is a ‘physically big’ device and can more easily accommodate a larger battery. On the wrist, Wear OS would need a MASSIVE battery 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, Zwift-treadmill mode, trail mode with tile-based map overlays to support route-following in a race
- 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. Garmin already has those pearls and has already made a necklace out of them.
The point here is that we often 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 Vantage V3
My solution for Polar would be to make a bold move rather than fiddling with Vantage Gen 3 features, perhaps something like this list which also includes some points that stray wider than the scope of V3
- Technical Competence: a leading-edge dual frequency GNSS chip to nail positioning as best as can be done matching Garmin/Coros/Suunto
- Athletic Competence: Track mode + ??
- Prettiness: A display that has smaller bezels
- Prettiness: AMOLED screen – sure it’ll use more juice but people running marathons will still be fine. It’s not a problem for Polar’s target markets for V3.
- Prettiness: 3rd party watch faces
- Physiological Competence: Beef up the physiology feature set. (Polar already licences its algorithms)
- Ambassadors: Get some serious brand ambassadors who are athletes rather than F1 drivers (I love F1, BTW) people like Patrick Mahomes (too late Whoop already have him)
- Athletic Competence: Simply do running features properly (perhaps the job of the Pacer Pro), and make every running feature a complete feature (how many companies initially supported Stryd but never allowed proper calibration #pointless #annoying). Polar has always tried to do ‘running’, less so recently as it has scrambled to release as many new features as possible with its limited resources. 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 965. Triathlon is too complex to do completely properly and mandates ANT+ support which Polar seems intent on never supporting
- Competitive Competence: 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 is an interesting place to start
- 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 but perhaps don’t put that on a Vantage V3 😉
Hey, that’s my 2c. And I think we will see the underlined/bolded bits on the V3.
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, and 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
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