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The Interbike 2012 Sports Tech Golden Nuggets (with Polar, Garmin, Timex, TrainingPeaks, Metawatch and more…)

There’s a ton of stuff I see each or hear while at Interbike that never makes it to a full scale post.  This year, that’s even more so true with most of the major companies holding back from releasing new products at Eurobike/Interbike – which means that the majority of my Interbike posts were focused on newer entrants to the market.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend time with everyone else.  On average I’ll spend 30-45 minutes talking to almost every other company in the sports technology industry at the show – with meetings often going late into the night.  Thus, even if the company didn’t announce a major project, I still have lots of little golden nuggets of information to share.  So with that, let’s dive into it!

Garmin: Fenix, Tempe and Vector:

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With the Garmin Fenix now shipping, the main Fenix related concern for Garmin is getting the backlog fulfilled.  The watch has sold extremely well for them, but particularly in Europe – where the numbers were far more than expected.

Tempe sensors (that’s the wireless temperature sensor in a footpod) are starting to seep out at as well, and I was able to get ahold of a unit that’s hanging out now in my bag for the flight back home.  Looking forward to starting to play with that this weekend.  You may also notice something of interest below (not the paper, that’s a different company)…

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For those curious about the Fenix review, it’s likely the week after next.  I want to do some altitude comparisons while up in the mountains outside of Calgary next week, and thus include those in my review.  While I’ve had a unit since July, that unit had very little functionality until mid-late August – as the firmware components just weren’t there yet in the beta builds.  Now that things are released though, I’ve been finalizing the review.

Last but not least, Garmin Vector (their pedal based power meter).  I had a good conversation with Clark Foy (head of Garmin’s Vector group), about the power meter and its delay.  As I’ve noted before, at this point everything around the delay is tied to manufacturing yield issues.  In other words, they aren’t getting the quantity of functional units after the manufacturing process that they want.  It’s like baking cookies, and having too many cookies being burnt each batch.

It was clear throughout the conversation that Clark was a bit humbled by the whole situation.  Obviously it’s not how they envisioned the year going.  Like at Eurobike, Garmin was not showing Vector within the booth (unlike last year).

One interesting aspect is that they (Garmin) have no desire to follow the ‘trickle out’ approach of the Polar/Look Keo power meter.  As you may or may not know, Polar slowly released very small batches of their new pedal based power meter over the course of 6-8 months last winter through spring.  Effectively allowing them to ensure quality levels remain high, with minimal repercussions for anything that might involve a recall of units (which was required for some early units to legit retail customers).  By focusing on a high level of customer touch (possible with very low batch numbers) they were able to keep the overall customer base happy.

Garmin’s stance is that they won’t go into production until they can press and ship thousands of units at once.  And it was noted that they won’t do that until the quality bar is there.  It’s been clear talking to numerous Garmin folks at both Eurobike and Interbike that the technical and timeline stumbles with the FR910XT are still painfully fresh in everyone’s mind.  There’s no desire to reenact that again.

That all said, timeline wise the public stance is Q4 CY2012 (end of year).  I think we might see some more concrete info and display at CES (first week of January) around their distribution and release plans.  But I wouldn’t expect to see a Vector under a Christmas tree this calendar year.

Polar:

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Polar’s primary focus at the show was their newly released RC3 GPS wrist watch, which started hitting the channel about two weeks ago.  This is the next unit I’ll be releasing my review on, next week (everything is done and ready on that).

My time with Polar was spent having a very constructive conversation with the President of Polar USA.  With him, and the VP of Marketing, we discussed the state of the industry (especially around Bluetooth Smart), and the state of Polar products.  It was a refreshing conversation, and at times rather frank about the current state of some of Polar’s offerings.  He’s new to the company, and I’m optimistic we’ll continue to see some of shift towards more competitive offerings (like the new RC3 GPS watch).

Timex:

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While Timex was at the show, they did not announce any new products this year there.  They have made updates recently to their Timex Run Trainer (firmware), but beyond that, most of the focus is on upcoming products.

I’ve got a meeting set with the their VP of Research and Development next week at the ANT+ Symposium in Canada, so I may (or may not) have more to share then.  So stay tuned on this one…I think there may be some good stuff here shortly.

TrainingPeaks and WKO+:

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I had a chance to catch-up with the guys behind TrainingPeaks and talk about their announcement earlier in the week to fund development of a new version of WKO+, which will be available on both PC and Mac.  The plan currently calls for a “99% complete re-write” of the codebase.

In talking with Gear (founder of TrainingPeaks), he outlined his vision for the updated WKO+, which includes a significant focus on application speed (especially for users with large file/history collections).  They’ll also be spending a fair bit of time revamping the UI to make it something applicable to this decade.  They’ve recently hired more user interface (UI) and graphical designers for the TrainingPeaks team at large, and those will be assisting here as well.

Additionally, expect to see better integration between WKO+ and TrainingPeaks.

Gear also noted that the Colorado company continues to grow at an incredible rate (revenue and employees) – as on Monday they announced they’ve opened up 10 new positions.  I’m looking forward to seeing these folks focused on integration with many of the new products shown off at Interbike (such as KICKR, TrainerRoad, and others…).

Kurt Kinetic, and inRIDE:

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I spent a bit of time talking with the Kurt folks about the inRIDE – which I wrote about back in August at Eurobike.  The $200 inRIDE is a sensor you attach to the back of your existing Kinetic trainer to get power meter information transmitted over Bluetooth Smart.

The feedback I had received on the post was a bit surprising to me, primarily due to the significant number of folks looking for ANT+ compatibility (in addition to, or in place of the Bluetooth Smart functionality).  I’ve been talking with the inRIDE (and Wahoo) folks about this feedback for a number of weeks, trying to understand what the viability is for getting ANT+ added.

At this point though, it’s not sounding like it’s in the cards.

Additionally, I also talked to the other piece of feedback I heard – which was around the heart rate strap being bundled, and that many folks simply didn’t want that.  While they may look at an unbundled offering down the line, they won’t be doing that initially.

That all said, I am excited to try out the system at home, and I should have an accessory unit in the next week or two (I already have the Road Machine trainer).

VeloComputer and Metawatch:

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VeloComputer announced just prior to Eurobike a power meter of sorts that’s the size of a typical speed/cadence sensor.  Now it does have some limitations, but within those limitations – it makes for an interesting experiment for me to try at $99.

While the VeloComputer folks didn’t quite have a unit ready for me to take home with me, I did get to see the newly announced integration with Metawatch.  Metawatch is a wrist watch that’s similar in functionality to Pebble, acting as a display for your cell phone apps to push data to and be easily glanceable.

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The goal here is to then be able to place your cell phone in your back pocket and then reduce the battery consumption significantly.  Similar in concept to Wahoo’s new RFLKT.

I picked up a Metawatch on Kickstarter back a month or two ago.  So we’ll see which of the two companies gets their unit to me first.  My current money is on VeloComputer (who thinks they’re looking at a few weeks), but we’ll see.  As a random side note, VeloComputer is also on Kickstarter now.  Though, given the gap their looking at – I think they’ll likely need to continue with their existing distributionplans.

Pioneer Power Meter:

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Nothing has changed here for the left/right power meter, except the price ‘range’.  At Eurobike, the price range started at $2,600US and depending on which currencies you used, went upwards to $3,200US.

I swung by the booth to see if they had solidified a US price yet.  At present, they haven’t, but they did note that currently that range is between $2,000US and $2,500US.  So, it seems we’re making a little downward progress there.  Final pricing is of course still TBD.

Barfly adjustable Garmin Edge and Forerunner 310XT/910XT Mount:

I met up with the Barfly guys under a fake straw tiki roof island cantina bar in the middle of the showfloor to get a look at their latest mounts.  In particular, their newest mounts which solves the riddle of the FR310/910XT quarter turn mounts being offset 90 degrees from that of the Edge cycling series*.

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Note above that the mount is positioned the same way in each photo AND that the Garmin units are also positioned the same way.  Simple sounding, I know.  Reality until this product, not so much.  Previously, the FR910XT would have been sideways.

The guys gave me a handful of mounts to take back – so I’ll be trying them out.  It’s a plastic mount, so I’m not going to overthink it from a review stand.  But I’ll write-up something.

*In case you’re wondering why these are offset 90* from the Edge units… I’ve never gotten an official answer from Garmin on this, but the current running theory is as follows.  The Edge units came first – by about a year (Edge 500).  At the time, the mount had the two little wing tabs to the left and right – which worked great.  However, when the FR310XT quick release came along, someone realized that if you put this wingtabs there on the quick release backing, they blocked the rounded charging connector for the FR310XT/910XT.  The solution – just rotate the whole thing 90*.  Since the mounts at the time were just rubber banded on, it wasn’t a big deal.  Annoyance perhaps, but not a show-stopper.  Over time, folks have developed custom plastic mounts for various positions – and even ones built-in to aerobars.  Which meant that all of those ones that worked with the Edge, now failed hardcore with the triathlon focused watches.  Had the Edge units had the tabs at the top/bottom from the very start – there never would have been a problem.

The top four sports technology things I saw at the show:

Every person I talked to asked me: “So, what’s the top four things you’ve seen?”.  Thus I figured I’d share it with you as well, and my reasoning.  It’s probably worthwhile noting that on the whole, there actually wasn’t a ton of new sports technology announced or shown at the show (much of it done, as usual, at Eurobike).  But even including Eurobike, it was a bit of a quiet year in that manner.  But here’s what stood out:

1) Wahoo KICKR trainer: No doubt, everyone was talking about this.  Yes, it was announced at Eurobike – but if you wanted to find the who’s who of the cycling technology world – you could have just hung out at the Wahoo booth.  Everyone came by, competitors and partners alike.  Even some cycling media/publications that normally ignores sport tech of cycling was making mention of it.

2) Stages Cycling StageONE power meter: Another booth that was packed.  Every time I talked with anybody at any other company on the floor, the conversation always turned to “So, what do ya thing about the $699 StageONE?”.  This is going to be popular, and in a big way.  I think you’ll probably start to see some reactions from other power meter companies on the pricing front as we head into next year, assuming units get into peoples hands and there aren’t unforeseen accuracy issues.

3) Wahoo RFLKT: Besides having a name that nobody can type easily or quickly, it’s got a solid little buzz about it.  A cautious buzz though.  As it stands today, it’s got enormous potential, but it’s ultimately going to be up to phone app developers to take this from a blank slate to a Garmin Edge killer.  I think some can do it, and do some really amazing things there, but, it’s still going to take someone. I suspect this might be a lot like when the Wahoo Fitness ANT+ iPhone Adapter came out, initially a bit slow in app adoption, and then that quickly built to a groundswell.  Today, that has 130+ apps that support it.  What if a year from now, you could run 100+ apps as your RFLKT bike computer?  One day you have a TrainingPeaks bike computer, the next a GoldenCheetah Bike Computer, or perhaps a Strava bike computer.  Huge potential, but it’s up to the rest of the industry to make it happen.

4) 4iiii’s Viiiiva  – ANT+/Bluetooth Smart Consolidator/Bridge HR Strap: This product wasn’t widely known until I posted about it Thursday morning.  However, I started hearing a bunch more buzz following that.  The general reaction when I talked with folks about the unit was first “Holy crap”, then followed by a silent moment of pondering of all the things they could do.  Which was usually then followed by “Dang, that’s gonna open up a whole bunch of opportunities”.  Indeed, I think it will as well.  However, there are still some technical hurdles to overcome there around device profile translation (i.e. getting an ANT+ power meter conforming to the ANT+ power meter device profile, to getting functional Bluetooth Smart power meter profile compliant data).  It’ll be solved – but it’s not all final yet.  And I think the unit will probably find some competition down the line.  So the sooner they get on the market, the more partners they can secure.  Overall, I think there’s huge potential here.

As far as other sports tech, there were lots of other newly announced power meters (most announced at Eurobike, rather than here at Intebike), but everything is either still in the ‘sometime in the future’ realm, or within the ‘really darn expensive’ realm.

The notables who weren’t notable (or here) this year:

Just a quick rundown a few companies that many of you might ask about.

Motorola:

They weren’t here.  Now, they weren’t here last year either – but they had been making the rounds at every other trade show, including even small local 5K’s.  Everything I’ve heard from multiple retailers and distributors confirms what I’ve already stated: The Motoactv is dead.

There’s a tiny sliver of a chance that Google may change their mind, but at this point things are being spun down.  Yet interestingly, everyone I talked to (including numerous other competitors) thought that the Motoactv could have really made a solid dent in the space with a few minor tweaks (and time).  There’s no question it drove forward progress within the industry in certain ideas and concepts.  It’s just unfortunate it didn’t get a chance to really grow up.

Suunto:

Suunto actually was quite notable, but they weren’t here (which is normal).  People are paying attention again to them though.  Which isn’t to say consumers didn’t pay attention previously, but within the industry, there actually wasn’t a lot of people that saw them as a true competitor in the GPS and connected devices space.  They were kinda a third wheel.  But the recently announced Suunto Ambit updates have absolutely changed that.

Ironically, the introduction of the Garmin Fenix has also driven some of that attention back to Suunto to see if we might end up getting a good competitive battle between the products going over the next year or two.  Both products have the sensor technology inside them (accelerometer (Ambit only), GPS, and long battery life) to be expanded on significantly more than they offer today – so it’s a bit of a race as to who’s going to make the next moves.

Random Thought Paragraph:

I was going to put this above in one of the companies sections, but I decided to put it down here instead and make it more general.  I got the sense there’s definitely a bit of frustration amongst the sports tech companies about the reality of distribution margins.  With the focus of frustration around their inability to get lower prices to consumers.  The distributors and retail stores are pushing harder than ever for an increase in margins.  The margins are simply how much each of the players along the line from factory to you takes in (such as 30-40% to distributor middleman, 30-40% to retail store, and the remaining to the actual company making the product).  In effect, this is driving the cost of some of these products further out of touch with reality.  Especially for many of the mass produced sensor-style products.  And, I think this pricing will ultimately kill some of the products I’ve written about this week.  But of course, it’s also a double-edged sword, since distribution gets higher volume.  Anyway, food for thought.

With that – thanks for reading!  I’ve got a few more items that I’ve taken home with me that I’ll write about in the coming weeks and days.

As always, thanks for reading!

21 Comments

  1. "I got the sense there’s definitely a bit of frustration amongst the sports tech companies about the reality of distribution margins. With the focus of frustration around their inability to get lower prices to consumers. The distributors and retail stores are pushing harder than ever for an increase in margins."

    That's why, to me, companies like XTerra for wetsuits are more intriguing. Speaking of which - have you ever heard of KarbonSpeed wheels? Started by some ex-xterra folk I believe, bringing the $999 carbon wheelset out of the gray market importers into the warranteed-US company market. Just curious.

    Reply
  2. Ray,
    as a data junkie I really miss the temperature reading on my Garmin 310XT.
    With the Tempe no out, do you know if the 310XT (and 910XT) will get a firmware update to work with the Tempe?
    Here in Dallas, TX temperatures range from 32F (in the winter) to 115F (in the summer) this significantly impacts performance. We can have cold days in early/late summer and warm days. So looking at data and making comparsions year over year is impossible without a temperature readout!

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  3. Anonymous

    Sounds like no Edge 500 update from Garmin. Too bad.

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  4. Tim

    Ditto on what Timster said. Maybe it's just the data junkie in me... I love seeing the temperature graph on my Edge data, and have been wishing my Forerunners (310, 910, 610) would support something like the Tempe.

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  5. david

    "I got the sense there’s definitely a bit of frustration amongst the sports tech companies about the reality of distribution margins."

    I can understand that - but then look at the Canyon model - just ignore distributors and distribute solely by web and make sure you have lightning responsiveness via email and a good returns policy so people aren't shy to buy. If it can be done with bikes worth £2-6k why not some of the other stuff.

    Much as I like to support my local bike shop (and do) I will buy via the web direct from manufacturer (and did with Canyon) when I compare the offerings and see that there's 20%+ savings in it for doing so. The only time I'll buy from the store is when they add some value with service or advice I can't get elsewhere or I need/want it quick - that's what I pay a store premium for. Where I can buy direct from manufacturer and return if not suitable for the cost of postage then I can't (and I don't see how a store can) justify the store markup.

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  6. Hmm, no replacement for a Garmin Edge 800... Quite a disappointment.

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  7. Anonymous

    Was there any notion from the Garmin folks as to wither there would be an update to support temperature for the XT series devices?

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Hey Ray,

    Thanks for the updates.

    Calgary has been having super nice weather this fall. Let me know if you are looking for someone to run/ride/hike with while in Calgary.

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  10. Anonymous

    The Metawatch in that photo is being worn upside down (from the perspective of the rider).

    Reply
  11. Jase

    Great post as usual Ray.
    I'm interested in your cryptic comments about Polar and their current offerings. Are you planning to expand on this or was is more "off the record"?

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  12. I was really excited about the inRIDE accessory after reading your initial post. Like many others, I'm interested in incorporating power into my training, but I'm not at a level competitively where I can justify spending $1500+ on power meter. (Nor would my wife be happy if I did this.) But the spending $500 for a trainer that could accurately provide power data would be much easier to swing. I was excited enough that I added a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine to my Amazon wishlist and told my wife that I wanted a Kinetic trainer for my birthday--which is a month from today, in case anyone is interested in getting me anything.

    However, my excitement is waning now that it looks like there is no hope for the inRIDE to have ANT+ compatibility. Like most, everything I currently use is ANT+. Replacing my sensors and computer/watch with ones with Bluetooth Smart would make up the price difference between the cost of a Kinetic trainer with inRIDE accessory and the cost of lower priced power meter--especially when you look at the cost of a new iPhone or iPad, which appears to be the platform Wahoo is focusing on for the inRIDE. I suppose the 4iiii’s Viiiiva heart rate monitor has potential to allow me to continue using everything I've already invested in, but it would add another $100 expense on top of the trainer and power accessory and push me closer to the cost of an actual power meter. When looking at the costs and benefits, a lower-priced power meter such as a PowerTap or the upcoming StageONE appears to be a much better investment for someone in my position. This would allow me to continue using everything I already have while also giving me power data on the road.

    On top of all this, I'm still not buying into Wahoo's focus on using an iPhone or iPad. Certainly there are benefits from the customization perspective, but there are too many drawbacks--the cost of buying one if you don't already have one (I use Android and am not interested in changing to AT&T or Verizon for phone service. I also have an iPad 2, but of course it doesn't have Bluetooth Smart and iPads are only practical for use on a trainer), the lack of waterproofing, battery life issues, GPS accuracy issues, durability issues in the event of a crash, having to strap your phone to your arm to go on a run, and a number of other issues that have been discussed to the point of exhaustion. Obviously iPhones are popular and Wahoo has tapped into a big market as many people already have the phone and aren't concerned with the issues that I am. But as the feedback you've received from your readers indicates, there are also a lot of people who like things that Wahoo are doing but don't buy into their smartphone-centric business model. By ignoring those of us who fall into this category, Wahoo is missing out on a large number of sales to people would buy an ANT+ inRIDE power accessory. I genuinely hope they reconsider sticking to only selling this with Bluetooth Smart or that someone else steps up and releases a product with the same capabilities but transmits via ANT+.

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  13. Anonymous

    Blue and green colored straps for FR 910xt, wow.

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  14. or_watching

    Hi.
    It reads like the fenix also has an accelerometer, like the Ambit, but it hasn't been turned on yet. Is that right?

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  15. Actually, sorry, I've heard two different things there on that from inside Garmin. One said it's in there during some casual conversation. I need to double-back and check on that. I've updated to note it's Ambit only for the moment.

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  16. Hey DC, did you have a chance to speak to Brim Brothers at the show? I didn't notice any updates on eir progress or timeline?

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  17. Sorry, circling back to some of the other questions...

    RE: Tempe with FR310XT/910XT

    I don't see the FR310XT as likely (just a resourcing issue for them). I could see the FR910XT down the road however. But I haven't heard anything concrete.

    RE: Edge 500/800 updates

    Don't expect to see anything on that front this calendar year.

    RE: Calgary

    Hi Dan! Usually, my trips are there are super-crazy slammed. I'm in during the evening, and are burning 18 hours a day meeting with folks in the industry. Wish I had more time!

    RE: Upsidedown Metawatch

    Funny, the question is - did she do it on purpose, or accident? I'd guess on purpose, since it made it better for me taking the photos (which was the sole reason she put it on).

    RE: Polar current offerings

    The conversation started around PPT.com primarily, and comparisons to Garmin Connect. I pointed out that while Garmin Connect wasn't the pinnacle of coding, it was a million times better than PPT. But I also said that they needed to better surface areas in PPT that do well, such as Training Plans (not see in GC). In general, I pointed out that PPT looked like it was written in 1996, whereas GC at least looked current. I noted they do some good things, but the UI makes a bad first impression.

    We then talked a bit about HR training in general, and the future there vs pace/speed training driven so much by today's GPS world. Expansion plans were mostly off the record, though, it's common knowledge on the interwebs that a RCX3 GPS variant will likely be next.

    RE: John S.

    Hi John - awesome comments!

    Agree completely on pricing, ANT+ compat and that even with Viiiva, you're starting to approach a pretty steep total price.

    On Wahoo's focus - it's not actually iDevice. In fact, that's just their cover. In reality, it's BT4.0 (Bluetooth Smart). That's where the magic is. Today, the iPhone/iPad deliver that well. They'd LOVE to branch more into Android, but there's some general consistancy issues there that are still being worked out. I have zero doubt they'll be working that side of the market more, it's just that today it's easier for them to reach the iDevice market given the maturity of BT4.0 support on those devices.

    RE: Blue and green colored straps

    Yes, wow indeed.

    RE: Brim Brothers

    Yeah, I talk to Barry often (head of Brim Brothers). In fact, I spent four boatrides with him back and forth to Eurobike each day. And I'll see him all next week. At present they're still hunkered down and working away. I could see Interbike 2013 - along with everyone else it seems.

    Thanks all!

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  18. Eli

    RE: Edge 500/800 updates

    There seem to be lots of references to an Edge 900 in a press release that everyone seems to have some version of (based on google search results) that refers to the Fenix, forrunner 10, Edge 900, and Vector. That was saying an Edge 800 replacement is coming this year, is that just bad data spreading online?

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  19. Yeah, it's funny. The HR Watch Company is the only retailer I know out there that actually send out it's own press releases announcing things that either aren't announced or real, or are just flat out wrong.

    (Oh, referring to this: link to prweb.com)

    For example, they'll often announce 'reviews' about products the day they are announced, yet I know they don't actually have any units, and sometimes - they even get the specs wrong. It's really bizarre.

    As for the Edge 900 - I can assure you, it's not coming out this CALENDAR year. If you look at it from the perspective of Garmin, there's little to gain by releasing an Edge 900 at this point, compared to just doing it when Vector is out for a twofer.

    If they had announced it at Euro/Interbike, they would have briefed the dealers (which they didn't), and they would have prepped the distribution channel (which they didn't). That would also have put them right on target for a late Nov/early December delivery date (based on every historical release to date). The fact that the HR Watch Company even mentions it is actually a hint that they don't know anything about it - as if they did, they would have stayed silent. ;)

    If they try and pull it off now, they wouldn't deliver in time for Christmas, which would only repeat the issues seen by the FR910XT last year and missing Christmas.

    It's really hard to overstate how burnt the FR910XT ship fiasco was within Garmin. It's like if you're teenager wrecked a brand new 100K car. Everyone knows about it, and nobody forgets about it. This is why you saw the Garmin swim available within a week, and the Garmin FR10 also available within 7-10 days (in one place, 4 days later).

    There's been a shift in mindsets since the FR910XT (and Vector) about simply waiting until the product is actually ready to ship. Even Fenix was a bit lopsided - and they only barely hit their announced targets...barely.

    Again, just my two cents...but I assure you, barring a change in plans (and nothing moves up), you won't see it under the Christmas tree this year.

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  20. Eli

    Thanks for the details

    Reply
  21. Keith Hatounian

    Well it looks like they are finally ready to ship the first VeloComputer Smart Sensors. I just received a notice to confirm my shipping address. VeloComputer.com

    Reply

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