Without doubt, one of the most frequent questions I get around these parts is: “When will the next version of ____ be released?” – which is typically “When will the next Garmin Forerunner be released?”.
I should first say – I don’t have any insider information from Garmin. Garmin is notoriously tight lipped when it comes to releasing specific product information ahead of release. That said, plenty of little tidbits leak out, and perhaps more importantly is that Garmin is incredibly predictable. Timeline predictable to be specific.
Garmin, like most other consumer product companies does this for good reason. Timelines are all suited to ultimately have new product available when you’re both most excited about it, and when you’re most likely to buy it. Additionally, product releases are also timed to large annual events within a given industry.
So before we talk about when exactly the newest Forerunner watches will be released and what it looks like – let’s talk about when they’re typically released.
On the Forerunner side of the house, Garmin used to release new running products timed to the big Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is the first week of January. However, they stopped doing that back in 2009 and instead let CES focus on the adventure/vehicle side.
The last time there were January CES releases was:
Garmin FR205/305- January 2006 (CES)
Garmin FR405 – January 3, 2008 (CES)
They moved the running and triathlon related releases instead into the February and April timeframe. February was/is sorta random, though likely designed to catch runners training for spring events. Triathletes aren’t typically racing until mid-late spring – whereas runners are mostly gearing up late winter. Hence why we really only see the FR60 as being in the February release cycle:
Finally – the most predictable date for the triathlon watches is to release just ahead of the Boston Marathon. This legendary marathon runs mid-April and the desire is to be able to have previously announced product with limited availability hand at Boston for folks to buy/see. Thus why we see releases the first week of April:
Just to also make brief mention that cycling devices are virtually always timed to Interbike. Interbike occurs in September, though Garmin will normally release product details in August just prior to the opening of EuroBike. Normally cycling products are announced in August/September and then made available in the retail channel in November-December – this is pretty well tried and true year in and year out.
Both running/triathlon and cycling products typically have a 1-2 month delay before availability. More popular ones tend to drag on longer, for example, the FR310XT was still relatively hard to get almost 3 months after it’s announcement.
With past timelines in mind, let’s get into what’s likely on the way.
Expectations and hints:
Given the above noted release schedules, it should be expected that more than one new Forerunner will be coming on the market over the next few months. There’s virtually no doubt that a new Forerunner 310XT variant is on the way (triathlon-specific watch), as this was inadvertently leaked last week. Aside from the timelines above, it was also let slip last week that the new version is touchscreen based. I suspect it’ll follow in the footsteps of the Edge 800 – which for a touch screen device actually works really well (and yes, with gloves too). I think what we’ll see is them use the same technology that’s on the Edge 800 ported to the smaller screen of the FR310XT.
Given the new 2011 Forerunner line of watches product photos were just shot two weeks ago, I’d be hesitant to say that we’ll see a February announcement for everything – and thus suspect closer to an April announcement (per normal schedule).
By the same token, given there are confirmed/let slip that there are multiple Forerunners coming it’s quite possible they’ll separate out the two different categories of devices into two announcements – like they’ve done in the past as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a FR60 replacement, as well as the 310XT replacement. The FR60 remains an incredibly popular watch with a surprisingly loyal following – and it’s due for replacement per the normal timelines.
Either way – by the first week of April we’ll have a full batch of new devices to check out. This will allow them to go to the Boston Marathon booth with devices in hand – an important launch event for them.
To wait or buy?
Of course, this triggers the question of whether or not you should wait for the next version to come out, or just go ahead and pick-up one of the current generation watches (FR305/FR310XT). The first thing to keep in mind is that based on Garmin’s history, they don’t tend to make major changes between versions – it tends to be more incremental.
Additionally, if you look at the difference from the FR305 to the FR310XT – you’ll see that a significant number of folks are still picking up the FR305 – despite being 5 years after it was released. So much so that Garmin confirmed back in November that it remains wildly popular and they had at the time no immediate plans to cease sales. I suspect the same will be true of the FR310XT going forward as well given it meets the needs of the majority of folks.
As we look at new watches coming onto the market, key items they could look to address are to separate it from the FR310XT are:
1) Some form of indoor swimming mode, with ANT+FS HR straps supported for underwater recording
2) More in depth power meter options
3) Potentially see live tracking options (though, I think we may see this slide to next year based on how the new Garmin GTU Tracker works out)
4) Better mapping options for courses/routes on the FR310XT
Again – these are just areas they could improve – but there’s no guarantee that they will in this iteration.
Finally, the last item to keep in mind is that even after announcement it takes about 2-4 months for the retail channel to fill. In the case of the FR310XT, they were still difficult to get ahold of in June/July – despite announcement some 3 months prior. So you may want to look at your race season and see what makes the most sense based on your schedule and need.
The Timex and Polar Corner:
While I follow Timex GPS watches quite closely…they just don’t have a lot of history yet in this segment since they only released GPS based Global Trainer last year. That said, they have committed to be releasing a new version of the Timex Global Trainer this spring (including footpod support) – so that’s definitely an option to consider. Based on my conversations with them, they’ve learned a ton from the first go at it, and are really looking to be very competitive in the next version.
On the Polar front, they too have plans to release an updated suite of products going into the spring. It’s not yet clear precisely when they’ll be available, but my understanding is that we should be seeing announcements in the February timeframe.