My sports technology ‘predictions’ for 2010

It’s no secret that I enjoy gadgets, and in particular sports related gizmos.  This interest probably comes from my day job in designing technology stuffs.  I simply enjoy understanding how things work, and what might come next.  Now, because of my fairly detailed sports product reviews, I tend to get a pretty steady stream of e-mail asking me what my thoughts are with respect to this or that upcoming doohicky or toy.  So…why not simply put all my random predictions into one handy post?

I’ve divided up the thoughts/predictions into different categories, along with some special categories.  Also, it should be pointed out that I have no inside information here from any of these companies.  I just follow a LOT of companies blogs, forums, twitter accounts, press releases and everything else – collecting little tidbits here and there.  Those tidbits then get put into a big empty section in my brain, hoping to eventually see the light of day.

So…without further ado…the light of day:

  • A number of companies have announced plans to finally release to market pedal-based power meters (see this post for a power meter primer).  The two companies that have either demo’d or shown their product and released dates are Metrigear and Brim Brothers.  Metrigear is targeting Q2 of this year, while the brothers are targeting September.  September of course coincides with the annual Interbike.  I think what you’ll see is both companies get their products out the door this year, but I suspect quite a few delays and stock limitations for the first few months of each product.  Both are based on ANT+, which is key to being able to leverage existing ANT+ heat units out there (from Garmin, Saris, and Bontrager).  However, the limiter here will still be cost.  While these two companies have hedged towards being a more affordable solution – that’s really only true if you have many bikes.  From a single-bike perspective, it’s mostly a wash.  That said, I’m super excited about what both of these companies have to offer, and really look forward to seeing them in action.  The ability to put the power meter in the pedal (Metrigear) or cleat (the Brothers) means you’re able to quickly move between bikes and still have a power meter.
  • ANT+ is starting to really catch on in the bike world, more so than in other sports merely because the number of accessories you can attach to your bike – compared to running or swimming.  Interbike saw a number of ANT+ accessories this year, but most of them were still in the conventional mold (cadence/speed/power).  Look to see more companies to integrate new applications on the bike, such as wind sensors (kinda like what the iBike does today).
  • I think at the end of the year you’ll see more bike manufactures announce frame integrated ANT+ cadence/speed sensors, like Trek has done with their Madone.  They’ve integrated the cadence/speed sensor directly into the frame – which is way cool.  This removes the sometimes finicky sensor issues and makes it more streamlined.
  • Polar’s upcoming CS500’s (deets here) has some pretty cool features with respect to new configurable reminder systems to ‘Drink’ and ‘Eat’ on the bike during races.   However, in my opinion they’ve completely missed the boat with going with their own proprietary wireless technologies in lieu of going with ANT+, which means no 3rd party power meters  or other accessories out there will be compatible.  (To be fair, the company behind ANT+ is actually a Garmin subsidiary so there’s probably some interesting politics there)
  • The recently released Pool-Mate, which is a simple wrist watch that automatically counts laps and determines stroke length, is what I think will be the first foray into the swim world for the major sports technology companies.  Pool-Mate is from a small company – and most leapfrog innovations tend to come from companies like them (just like the pedal based power meters above), but look for some of the big dogs (Polar, Garmin, Timex) to quickly follow suit in this area.  Pool-Mate is well positioned in that it’s relatively cheap.  But being UK based they need to streamline and diversify their operations a bit if they want to really appeal to the US market.  The unfortunate reality is that most US consumers won’t step out of their comfort zone and purchase directly from an overseas retailer with no stateside support.  These are growing pains I’m sure they’re going to address, and if they can do so before the big players step in, I think they stand a really solid chance of long term profitability here.
  • Look for someone to finally sort out GPS based swimming.  The technology is there today to do this, it’s just a matter of someone having enough financial motivation to implement it.
  • I think this may be the year for FINALLY getting a GPS based running watch that you can actually wear around the rest of civilization.  The FR-60 – while not GPS based – is in my opinion the perfect running/all around watch, now they’ve just got to stuff a GPS sensor in there.  The Forerunner 405 came close, but I still think it was too bulky for everyday wear.  Now the technology and GPS sensors are just about there size-wise to be able to pull it off, if not by this spring, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see something in time for the holiday/fall marathon season.
  • Personal Location Tracking.  (For lack of better place to put it, it’s going here).  Popular on phones now, this allows you to track exactly where someone is at any given point in time.  Basically the Spot Device I reviewed.  But now look for it to move into the sports world.  This would be very useful in Ironman races where courses cover well over 100 miles.  There’s already one company in the market – Trakkers – but I honestly believe they’ve got a flawed business model with an inability to execute.  They’re sponsoring triathletes this year, but at the end of the day they just aren’t delivering products to consumers – and that’s what matters.  They’re stuck on trying to be a service at events (for example certain Ironman races), when they should be focused on mass market products with a service subscription model.  I expect to see one of the big players (Polar/Garmin/Timex/Nike) to take over this arena in the next 18-24 months.

Garmin Related:
You may have noticed I specifically mostly omitted Garmin from the sections above, it was easier to simply group them down here, because understanding how they release products and alternate product roadmaps is key to predicting what’s coming down the line.

  • Garmin typically releases updates to their sports products every two years.  And typically you see new products announced in late winter, for arrival in spring (in time for consumers in the US and Europe to use for the warmer summer months).  Some exceptions to cycling related items such as the Edge 500 being announced at Interbike in September are of course noted.  With that in mind, the Forerunner 405 was released in Spring 2008, which means it’s due for a update this spring…
  • ..I’d expect to see the Forerunner 405 (primarily a running watch) rehashed and be smaller than before.  Hopefully approaching the size of the FR-60.  I think you’ll see them add some of the features on the 310XT/FR-60 such as Tanita scale sync, but the primary focus would have to be size if they do release an update.  As for the touch bezel, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go away.  Reviews across the Internets were mixed, with folks either loving it or hating it.  You’ll notice that Garmin’s official blog has tapered highlighting it much these days which to me it implies it may be on its sunset tour.
  • Don’t expect any new triathlon related watches this year.  The 310XT was released this past spring (2009)..well, actually it wasn’t really widely available until summer.  Expect something new in Spring 2011, likely with updated swimming capabilities in an effort to finally address the one outstanding complaint of most triathletes.  Failure to address that issue in my mind would be a failure to really deliver on what triathletes would look for in any variation of an updated 310XT.
  • While the Edge 500 was considered a new cycling computer, it doesn’t refresh the Edge 705 – which was released at the same time as the Forerunner 405 in Spring 2008.   Given that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them release a slimmer and more feature packed Edge (805?) later this spring.  The key differentiator between it and the 500 would of course be the GPS mapping functionality (just like your car GPS unit).  Like any potential 405 replacement, this would focus on size primarily.
  • I would not be surprised to see them release a direct competitor to the Swim-Mate.  Something small, like the FR-60, but targeted at the swim crowd.  Garmin could utilize it’s mass-market manufacturing power to release a product appealing to everyone from hardcore lifetime swimmers to collegiate swimmers to everyday lap folks.  Garmin has found that making many different models of products is more successful for them than making one-size-fits all products.
  • I expect to see continued updates to Garmin Connect.  The problem Garmin is facing here is that they’re trying to balance being a website that any average runner/cyclist can utilize to look at their runs/bikes, versus offering more sophisticated analysis that sites like Training Peaks can do.  Further complicating their challenge is that Garmin isn’t inherently a software company.  Meaning, they’re very good at delivering really solid hardware, but when it comes to software, they tend to falter (be it timely updates to fix bugs in firmware such as it’s cycling computers, or making features of Garmin Connect usable).  I think you’re starting to see though a fundamental shift in Garmin’s offerings with respect to entering the software market and starting to offer software-only services without hardware (for example, today they announced a new aviation related iPhone app for flight planning).  I expect to see that shift continue.

Other Software Related
Not Garmin specifically, but some final thoughts on software you’ll see this year

  • Golden Cheetah: For those not familiar, this open source sports management application is doing some really really cool stuff.  For example, they’re adding support for doing real-time analysis of ANT+ data streams.  So imagine setting up a computer next to a normal cheap trainer, and being able to see all your data streams in real time on a computer screen.  The coaching potential for this is huge, not to mention doing head to head type racing…which, is also something they’re poking around at.  At the moment, GC (Golden Cheetah) is still a bit rough around the edges in comparison to well refined applications like Sports Tracks, but as interest and developer support grows, expect to see some really cool stuff comes out of that community.
  • More online sports tracking websites. It seems as over the last year a ton of new sites have popped up (or finally popped onto the radar) for tracking your daily workouts.  Sites like Dailymile.com, RunSaturday.com, Logyourrun.com, RunningAhead.com and a gazillion others.  Expect to see even more added over the next year…with the majority of them probably going under at some point shortly thereafter.  I’d expect that you’ll see some merge together to take advantage of unique features here and there, but by and large most of them are duplicate in nature with others.  My advice here being if you entrust all of your workout data to an online service – be sure you have a backup somewhere else, or be sure they’re big enough they aren’t just going to close shop one day out of the blue.
  • Training Peaks: This is the one case (compared to everything above) where I do have some inside information… Expect to see some really cool forward movement from Training Peaks over the next 4-6 months.  They’ve been adding features at what seems like a weekly or even daily clip for the past few months, and it looks like that’s going to continue.  Look to see a lot of little but very useful features added – focusing on cleaning up the existing site to allow them to refocus their development efforts on getting tons of new features in front of users.  I know…kind vague, but soon good stuff will happen.

Summary:

Ok…first off, that turned out way longer than I expected.  Sorry ‘bout that.

To wrap up, except 2010 to bring some really cool advancements from training/racing hardware to post workout software.  I think it’s finally the year where you’ll start seeing devices actually talking and working with each other, instead of being unique silos unto themselves.  As for making any purchasing decisions based on this…well, it just depends on what you’re in the market for.  For example, if you’re in the market for a power meter ask yourself if you want to use it this season – if so – then go buy what’s on the market now, if it’s for next season, then wait a bit and see what shows up.

Thanks for reading!

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20 Comments

  1. Ok, I did read it. I understood about 20% of what was discussed. I need a tutorial. It looks like there might be some cool stuff coming down the pipeline that I will never understand how to use. I’m glad you are out there keeping on top of this stuff for us because if it was up to me, we would still be taking our heart rate by palpating our carotid artery.

    Reply
  2. I am so glad I coach beginners who are mystified by heart rate monitors and bike computers with cadence readings.

    Reply
  3. I’m hoping there is a marked improvement on the swim side of the market. I’ve been eying the Pool-Mate for a bit, but can’t swallow the price tag just yet… especially when I’ve read some reviews about how the plastic face scratches quite quickly (wish it were glass).

    Reply
  4. Ray, as always great reviews. Do you have to send any of this stuff back that you get to review??

    Keep up the good work. See you at the next tri.

    Reply
  5. Yup, virtually everything goes back. All Garmin stuff goes back within 30 days or 60 days, dependent on the conditions of the Media Demo kit they send me. The Tanita stuff is roughly 60 days. Everything else I’ve generally bought – and in most cases (specifically Garmin) I usually end up buying the products after returning the demo units.

    Some things that are smaller – like juice, footbeds, etc. aren’t returned because it would be awkward to return used juice…

    In cases like the 305, 405 and 705, and CompuTrainer and Spot device I just simply bought the device and decided to write a review on it some time later – which is simply how these started.

    Reply
  6. What an awesome post! Thanks for the techno read, surprisingly, I understand a good chunk of it. There are some neat things out there for sure.

    Reply
  7. An American company is developing a product similar to the Pool-mate. It is called Swim Sense (link to swimsense.com) and will have the advantage of uploading to Training Peaks.

    Also, I think the Garmin FR60 is a great watch, particularly since it would read the HR strap for my Edge 705 and Powertap, but to give up my Polar RS800 it would need to have a barometric altimeter. Having an accurate altitude channel is necessary for an accurate TSS score for running in WKO+.

    Reply
  8. With regards to trakkers I wonder how many people will use Instamapper with their Iphone, blackberry, android, or trac phone. My wife uses it to track me and it is free and runs on other phones so it is also a mobile tracker. Not much weight either really. Used it?

    Reply
  9. James

    Great post. Although I disagree about one thing.

    Ant+ really isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, and honestly is going to be pushed aside very soon by Bluetooth Low Energy. Ant+ is what, cycling specific? If we are thinking big, like a BIG convergence with all of our technology – which IMO is not too far down the road Ant + Will have NOTHING to do with it.

    Thank about it, I want my cell phone to automatically sync with the treadmill at the gym, upload my exercise program that was created on training peaks to the the treadmill. I want my Polar HRM to sync with the treadmill and store my entire workout automatically onto a web based workout log. I want those same sensors, and my phone to do the same with my road bike, GPS for running and even my car.

    Do you think any of this is going to happen on Ant+? When Bluetooth already is halfway there? Check out the BTLE press release and website – link to bluetooth.com

    Do you even think ant+ would be around if BTLE was released before? Ant+ was an alternative because regular bluetooth used too much POWER.

    Reply
  10. Hi Everyone-

    I appreciate the comments, especially folks pointing to some of the different other technologies out there. There’s so many cool things going on in this space, and I love hearing about them – so always feel free to pass along stuff to me (via e-mail or otherwise) if you think it’s cool and may not have been made the major rounds of news.

    As for Instamapper – that looks awesome. I’ve actually experimented with some apps I wrote myself for my Windows Mobile phone, and they worked pretty well, but they were too geeky to be useful beyond me. With the iPhone, I hate the inability to do the background portion because of the Apple Policies, hopefully that will change. One key difference to point out between something like Spot (and even some rumored Garmin stuff) is that they are using low-earth orbit satellites for send and receive, which means you aren’t limited to cell coverage. This to me is important as I often bike in the mountains for 6-9 hours straight – out of cell coverage range. Either way, tons of awesome location based stuff in the pipes from a lot of places.

    As for BTLE, I think it absolutely has a future. As you noted, ANT+ came first – and at the moment ANT+ has the wave of sports vendors behind it. Will that change? I think it could, if positioned correctly. Key items like low-cost entry barrier (development SDK’s, hardware samples, licencing etc…) can accellerate that. It has to be made appealing to companies to easily add BTLE support for it to catch on. It’ll be exciting to see where this goes over the next 12-18 months.

    Thanks all!

    Reply
  11. Thanks for the post, Ray.

    I’d already been leaning heavily towards getting a Quarq this spring as a PM to swap between my daily-commute CX bike and my tri-bike.

    But I may sit tight another year or so and see how the Metrigear and Brim Brothers products flesh out.

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  12. I would definitely love watch that could count laps in the pool for me. I’d be all over that!

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  13. Nice post. Wanted to add a few comments of my own:

    First, Pool-Mate is not the first company to offer a digital swim monitor/wristwatch. A company I founded, Strokz Digital Sports, launched a swim monitor watch in 1997; marketed globally by Speedo as the Speedo Stroke Monitor. Here’s a link to a photo of it: link to bould.com

    Will other large sport brands enter the swim market with similar devices? Its doubtful. The problem is the market for these devices is quite small.

    Also, I tend to agree with another commenter re: the long term prospect for ANT+. While it has found a home in small, closed-end applications such as biking, it’s potential in larger markets – such as smartphone accessories – it quite limited.

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  14. Okay, now I want a Pool-Mate. Onto the wish list it goes…

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  15. LOVE your in depth reviews the best I’ve found and perfect for someone like me that looks for everything there is to know about a product before I buy it. Having that said…
    After reading your Forerunner 305 and 310XT reviews, I finally made my choice to buy the 310XT (was still a hard choice) but now with this post I would like your opinion….
    do you think buying the 310XT is a good purchase to make now or should I wait a little longer? In other words, do you think there will be an upgrade and is it worth the wait, do you think it will be much of a difference?

    Thanks again for your insight

    Reply
  16. Hey Claudia-

    I think you’ve made a good choice. There may be some merit in waiting until the end of this month…

    But I don’t expect that to sway your decision for a triahtlon-specific watch.

    Reply
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  18. I know it’s now 2011, but I have a couple questions for you that popped up while going over this post (mostly regarding cost effective training)…

    1. Is trainingpeaks pro worth the money?? How about for a self coached athlete without gps, a powermeter or any other cool toys? I do have a hr monitor, but that’s all.

    2. What’s the best powermeter for the money? Can a $450 wired powertap do the same as the $2000+ competitors?

    3. What’s more valuable – a race or a training toy??

    Reply
  19. now 2011
    I’ve just learned about pieces for the pool
    thanks

    Reply
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