Significant updates to the Garmin GTU10 (Tracker), relevant for endurance athletes

This is a quick post, mostly informational as I happened to notice these things, and also happened to notice that nobody else seemed to notice. Thus, I figured I’d tell you.  Make sense?

Over the past few weeks Garmin’s been rolling out a few updates to the existing Garmin GTU10, which is their gum-pack sized tracking unit.  This is the unit that’s great for endurance athletes doing long distance races – such as an ultra running race or a half-Ironman or Ironman.  You may remember me using it back at the Boise 70.3 this past summer, to automatically update my location.  The unit uses an onboard GPS receiver to send coordinates as frequent as every 15 seconds via cellular networks (it used to be every 30 seconds).  Your cell phone need not be on you, it has a GSM chip built in.  You can customize the update timeframe to have the battery last as long as four weeks.

But the changes don’t just come in the form of a firmware update.  Nope, significantly more important changes were made to the app, as well as the site.  And that fancy ‘Deluxe’ $4.99 tracking plan finally has some useful additional functionality in it.

Let’s start with the firmware update.  Here’s the official listing of new changes in this firmware update (updating the actual unit itself):

  • Added support for customizable low battery alerts, poor GPS reception alerts, and external power lost alerts
  • Added support for speed alerts, scheduled check-ins, and continuous tracking sessions for Deluxe service plan customers
  • Added support for network assisted location in situations where GPS is unavailable
  • Added GPS and network signal strength reporting
  • Improved battery life for scenarios where no GPS fix is possible or network connection is unavailable
  • Improved response time for locate requests in some situations
  • Fixed potential issue that could prevent the device from responding to locate requests

    These updates are delivered via the Garmin Web Updater, which is the desktop application that delivers updates to Garmin USB devices, such as the GTU10 – but also including the whole Garmin Edge series for cycling.  After you plug the unit it, the update will complete automagically.  Mine took about 20-30 seconds to do.  Very quick.

    image

    After the unit is updated, you’ll see nothing visibly change on it.  Mostly because it only has one light, so there’s really not much to see different there.  All the changes are on the backend.

    After updating your device, you’ll see the changes under the settings tab.  Within that, we’ll start with notification.  The ones I’ve circled in red below are the new ones.  Of note is the speed notification.  You can bet this was at the request of parents installing these devices in teenagers cars…

    Additionally, you can now customize the low-battery levels.  Previously it was one size fits all.  And the GPS signal loss option is interesting as well.  This is actually useful for troubleshooting.  Because the unit uses cell-phone networks to update, this allows it to alert you that the position you placed it in doesn’t have GPS coverage (but does have cell coverage).

    image

    Next we have check-in’s.  These are basically pre-set times where you want the device to transmit its location.  This is useful if you’ve got the unit set so the battery lasts four weeks, and you want it to check in every day at 9AM and send its coordinates.  You can customize the time, days of the week, and which recipients receive it.

    image

    After that we’ve got continuous tracking.  This kicks up the transmit time to every 15 seconds – and is ideal for shorter distance races where less frequent tracking wouldn’t be enough data.  Note that the ‘duration’ maxes out at 5hrs, primarily from a battery standpoint.  You can go up to 20hrs if you reduce to every 30 seconds.  You can add recipients as normal.

    image

    There’s also been a few other changes along the way on the site, that may have been there longer – but I just happened to notice it now. For example, the cell and GPS indicators on the left hand side – as well as now the speed indicator:

    image

    On the App side, there was a slew of updates.  Virtually everything you can do on the site, you can do via the app.  I’m glad to see this.  Sometimes apps get shorted when it comes to functionality, and given the tracking nature of the device – the app is the more logical place for a lot of this.  Here’s the update notification of the app:

    IMG_3528

    Just to show a few screenshots, which in turn show some of the features I mentioned above.

    IMG_3597IMG_3598

    Now, perhaps the coolest feature listed here is the ability to do follow-me invitations.  This is something I’ve been asking for, for a long long time.  This allows you to create a shared page where you can allow folks to temporarily track you – complete with map and all.  This is great when you want to let folks follow your location during a race, but not forever.

    The only problem here is that you’d probably never find this feature.  That’s because it’s actually hidden within the Continuous Tracking mode.  No idea why they stuck it there – but they did.  When you create a continuous tracking ‘event’ (limit of five hours), it’ll ask you to specify recipients.  This is easiest to do on the app:

    IMG_3603

  • Interestingly, I got this little warning message.  At first, I was kinda peeved about it – as it seemed to me that Garmin was trying to tell me how to use my own device.  Or in essence – telling me I couldn’t even give it to my wife so I could track her.

    So I went back to Garmin and asked for clarification on what exactly this message was trying to tell me.  It turns out, the concern here is that if you were to give the device to someone else, but not tell them you were tracking them – that Garmin could be held legally liable for privacy issues.  Further discussion clarified that nobody from the Team Garmin Police force as going to be coming knocking out at your day, but rather this is just a liability thing for CYA for them.IMG_3620Once that’s all set, it’ll go ahead and shoot out e-mail notifications.  Unfortunately, the notification will likely end up in your junk e-mail folder, especially if on GMail, so you may need to go fishing there.  Once you find it, you’ll click on the Follow Me link.  Remember, this is ideally going to friends and family.imageFor the duration of the time you specified (starting from the start time you list), the user will be able to track you on a map. After that point in time, it just defaults to the Garmin page.  There only other challenge here is that the user must already have and/or create a Garmin.com account.

    I think this is a good first step for a more open/functional tracking architecture, but honestly, it still doesn’t meet my needs – or the needs of what I hear from many others.  At the end of the day I want a site I can send out and people can just click on a link and immediately see my position.  I don’t want them to have to sign-up for a site.  I do like the expiry concept, but 5 hours is just too short.  Since the device can last week, I should be able to configure a timeframe that extends months if I want to.  After all – if I was using the solar or car charger with the device, no reason that battery is my limiter.  Today, the Spot device has this exact same functionality.  Additionally, I can set a password if I want, as well as create multiple shared pages.

    And of course, I’m also still looking for them to add that $1 or so ANT+ chip into the device and send that data too.  But perhaps I’m asking for too much for a Friday morning.

    Speaking of which, that’s all I’ve got.  Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

    15 Comments

    1. tms

      Certainly an intriguing device, but they really do need to work on making it more flexible. I love the concept, but every use-case I can think of buts up against one or more of it's limitations. You can get it to work with work-arounds like your elaborate alternating geo-fences at mile markers trick, but such a natural scenario like that should have an elegant approach.

      The most frustrating thing is that the limits that are a problem aren't technical ones, but artificial ones. The hardware/firmware itself seems to be fine, it's just a matter of changing some policies.

      Either way, it's certainly good to see that they are working in the right direction. Hopefully they remove those silly limitations down the road and I'd pick one up in a heartbeat! As it stands, I can't really see many uses for it :(

      PS I second the suggestion that an ANT+ transceiver would be a huge bonus for a device like this (even if they had to tack on an extra monthly fee for the additional data). Aside from being able to relay sensor details, it would be awesome if it could be configured on-the-fly via a head unit (even more so if it allowed an Edge to display the locations of other friends on screen).

      Reply
    2. thanks for covering this. i purchased my gtu10 for testing and a 1-time event usage, then sold it. it worked pretty well, with a few caveats.

      the emailed links is a nice try but, as you note, note quite there. the fact that it requires continuous tracking is a bummer -- the particular event i used the gtu10 for was a 9-10 hour bike race, so putting in that limiter seems a bit unfortunate. in shorter events (for me), fewer people would want to track me and logistics are less a concern.

      glad to see they are updating the device and not abandoning it. when the same event rolls around for me next year, i'll debate whether or not to make another purchase. i was hoping a gtu20 might be around by then.

      not sure if the new features are enough to sway me to buy the device and keep it -- but based on my past generally positive experience i'd probably buy it again.

      during my particular event, i had a few critical missed updates as the device was unable to send text messages (no cell signal); the gap between the prior pre-planned text message and the next zone (where the message wasn't received) was too great.

      perhaps the continuous tracking might have helped my support team get a better sense of where i was up to the point where the signal was lost -- but then again there is that 5-hour limiter.

      i'd love to see some provision in there to send failed messages when a signal is regained, with some sort of notification that the message was being delivered late.

      Reply
    3. Ever try Glympse for tracking? If you run w/ your GPS capable cell that might be an alternative.

      Reply
    4. I love the concept and until now I use the spot tracking site frequently to see the progress of runners / bikers and others in (trail) endurance events.
      But for more urban races (coverage of cell towers) I see a good future.

      I hope too see the next (hardware)version supports the Russian Glonass gps system. I hear its more accurate. But maybe it does already because even the new Apple Iphone 4s (and other smartphones)support it's now.

      Reply
    5. Anonymous

      Yup - it's getting there but it's still not right.
      We go on annual multi-week bike tours and friends and family always like to know where we are at any given point and like to check we're still moving etc.
      The last couple of times I've used a combo of GPS tagged photos, updated daily to Picassa and if the sun is out, I can use the solar charger to keep a live tracker from my phone running.
      The idea of a tiny package which can be set to set to upload my location every hour, for say 2 weeks is spot on perfect. Then I just give the link out to people and they can see where we've been and the route covered so far. It's got so much potential but it's still falling way short. 5 hours wouldn't even cover you for an IM!

      Reply
    6. I updated the app a couple days ago and was excited to see the invites. I haven't looked into it any further...

      So basically you can only let others track you when the device is in continuous mode for 5 hours or they're only allowed to watch you for up to 5 hours?

      Reply
    7. Forgive me if I've missed the obvious, but will this device only work within normal cellular phone coverage areas, or does it communicate via a satellite network and work more like a gps? I'd like to get one so my family can keep tabs on me during some bike rides where there is no cell phone coverage. Thanks Ray for your reviews!

      Reply
    8. rolf--
      your question is a basic but good one, and the problem is the answer is not as readily apparent as it should be.

      the device gets a GPS signal, but in order to do any messaging it must have access to a cell network.

      this can be problematic in many circumstnances.

      Reply
    9. The Endomondo app does more or less the same thing with a gps enabled phone...

      An extra battery or some sort of external battery option would allow you to track the progress for how ever long you could get the battery to last...

      And Endomondo also allows you to recieive peptalks from the people following you on your workout.

      Reply
    10. the gtu10 is nice, in a way, because it requires no interaction. that's a blessing and a curse. in the race i needed it for, one cannot use a phone -- and it would be annoying to carry anyway.

      so....if a cell signal is available, the gtu10 would have been nice. also, if continuous tracking were available for 10-12h, that would be great, too, for when cell service goes in and out.

      it's frustrating to me that if an alert is triggered but it occurs at the time when no cell signal is available (perhaps even momentarily unavailable), then the message is not queued for later delivery with the same timestamp, it is simply never delivered.

      these things could be fixed if garmin is so inclined. there are MNAY things i like about this product. a few more features would make it close to perfect.

      Reply
    11. Anonymous

      The history display is confusing. It currently shows me correctly in the Hotel but 21 mins a go, 5miles down the road. I've not left the hotel for some hours. Obviously this is a concern since I need to use the unit for child safety purposes. I updated to the latest sw version 2.9 so it looks just like your post. I called support and the rep didn't explain the inaccuracy very well. So now I am concerned.

      Reply
    12. just came across this device called the "tagg pet tracker". you put a collar on your dog (looks not dissimilar to the gtu10), and you can track your pet on your computer or mobile device. it's unclear exactly how the signals are sent and how frequently it updates, but it's worth checking out.

      looks like it is about $100 and requires an $8/month service (though the service is month-to-month and requires no contract). cheaper than the gtu10 and may have more useful features.

      worth investigation. the website is http://www.nomorelostdogs.com.

      Reply
    13. Geo S.

      Have there been any updates to the "5 hour expiry"? I see that the Garmin app was updated Jan 2012.

      Reply
    14. cris

      So...the GTU10 service is gone after next year. (link to buy.garmin.com) Any suggested substitutes that don't require a phone?

      Reply
      • DC Rainmaker replied

        Not a ton of options at present.

        You've got the Bia Watch, which does 3G (though two pieces). The Timex One GPS+, which is one piece - but not out yet.

        Reply

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