How I would design the ideal sports watch

I’m asked on a daily basis which device I prefer and why.  Generally it’s in the context of whether oe should choose device X or device Y, or perhaps a combination of device W and device X.  My answers are generally the same, with slight variances for different circumstances.

But what if I could design one single device that did it all?  That did all the things I’d want a device to do?  What would it look like?  Well, let’s get into it.


There are really two different form factors that I see in this arena.  One aimed at multisport, and one aimed primarily at runners.  I like having four fields of data displayed at once – like the Forerunner 310XT.  But I LOVE the form factor of the Forerunner 110 (with three data fields).  I also don’t honestly mind the size of the Forerunner 310XT.  A little bit slimmer would be nice, but beyond that – it’s really not that bad, as the tradeoff is a really clear and easy to read display.


But, again – in my perfect watch, it’d be approximately the size of the FR110, maybe a hair bigger to accommodate the screens.  However, it would pack in all the features of the FR310XT and a few of the leftover ones missing that the Edge 500 has (around Power Meters and barometric altimeters mostly), oh, and all the stuff in the next two sections. ;)

The device would feature a built-in quick release system that doesn’t require swapping of the band (which is a structural weakness).  It would be smooth and seamless and not look clunky when utilized (unlike today’s quick release systems).

Real-time Tracking:

My perfect watch would enable remote GPS tracking.  The ability for friends, family and coaches to tune into your race or training day and know exactly where you are at that given moment.  It would integrate and upload ANT+ data from any source that was paired to the device – such as heart rate, power and cadence.  They could access a simple website that you can share out all your rides, or just selected ones.

None of this is new.  It’s just that today it’s spread across numerous device.  The GPS Trakkers device does this today – but I always caveat that it does this at a huge cost to the user, and doesn’t give any feedback to the actual athlete (no display).  RunKeeper on the iPhone/Android does this as well, but without the ANT+ fields.  Plus, I don’t want a cell-phone.  I want a simple clean watch.

This data tracking would be built into the cost of the device – I don’t want to pay yet another service fee to yet another wireless carrier.  Similar to how Amazon’s Kindle utilizes Whispernet to offer you downloads from your Kindle…without ever signing up/paying for that connectivity.  It’s just there.

In the water:

The device would record swimming data regardless of whether you are in the pool or the ocean.  It would utilize accelerometers in the pool to determine laps, strokes, and stroke length.  All items that are available today in standalone units.

In open water, it would utilize a more refined version of Garmin’s new Openwater Swim mode  to get accurate distances on your wrist – and not in your swim cap.  Yet, it would still give you stroke information via the accelerometer.  So in many ways, it would be what the guys at Sport Sense are working on (which I’ll talk about in a post next week).

Lastly, heart rate data would work in the same way that Polar’s T-31 coded straps do…in real time, all the time.  While new ANT+ FS straps are mere weeks away from releasing, these still don’t transmit in the water yet – they simply record all the data (HR, lap turns, etc…) and then transfer it to the device once out of the water.  I want it to do it in water.  If one company can do it (Polar), others can do it as well.

Transferring data:

I don’t want wires.  After years of refinement, Garmin’s wireless transfer system works quite well, however it needs to be expanded.  Let me transfer that data across Bluetooth to my mobile phone, just like some companies already support today.  And going even further, companies like Wahoo Fitness are also very close to allowing you to download your FR310XT data via ANT+ to your iPhone wirelessly, and then to Training Peaks.  All without a computer.

That’s the type of integration I want.  Except, I don’t want to have a dongle – I want it to work with any smart phone out there.  Yes, ANT+ chips are in some smart phones now (HTC Legend and others soon) – but realistically speaking, unless they’re in an iPhone (or the next ‘must have phone’)…it just doesn’t matter on a grander scale.

Lastly, the device would use a standards based file format.  Just because you have a new device does not mean you need to have a new file format.  This goes for both hardware and software vendors.  C’mon guys – there’s just not that many of you out there – surely for one simple thing you can play nice on something everyone can read without yet another format for storing sports data.


I want the battery to last…a long time.  I want to be able to use the device as a standard wrist watch for weeks on end.  I love that the FR60 lasts a YEAR!  I love that the FR110 will last almost a few weeks as well.  Now let me do workouts every day, and still last a few weeks.


Price is always tough.  Price it too high, and it doesn’t catch on.  Price it too low – and you’re leaving money on the table.  Most of the device that do portions of what I’m describing above – are in the $275-$325 range.  I think that’s a fair range for such a device. 

Final thought:

Here’s the kicker.  None of what I’ve described above is beyond the real of possibility.  In fact, every single item I’ve mentioned is already being done today…just not yet altogether on a single device.  Give me a device that does it all.

The real question isn’t if such a device gets made – it’s a question of when.  I’m still hedging my bets that such a device will exist in the next 18 months.  Time will tell…


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  1. I want it all and I want it cheap! :)

    I’d love a one watch does it all and does it wirelessly as well!

    I’d also love it to charge wirelessly…link to

    I think you gave a great range! Triathlon, running and multi sport are booming. With a small turnaround in the economy I think training smarter will be big business (bigger than it already is).

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  2. tms

    Great post!

    The tricky part with real-time heart rate data underwater is combining it with the bandwidth required for complex sensor networks like ANT+. Polar’s T-31 straps work because they operate at 5kHz rather than 2.4GHz. While the latter is heavily absorbed by water (why the ISM band was left as unlicenced spectrum), the former sees little attenuation.

    The problem, however, is that you don’t get a whole lot of bandwidth at those lower frequencies (spectrum allocation is pretty sparse down there). For transmitting a handful of 8-bit values once per second, that’s not a big problem. Unfortunately, to support a complex protocol like ANT+ (or Polar’s WIND) it does become an issue.

    That’s certainly not to say that it isn’t possible – other more off-the-wall technologies (eg leveraging skin conduction for data transfer) could potentially pull it off. It’s simply that Polar’s trick for getting it to work has some significant tradeoffs, so barring a watch with two completely separate radio stages (significantly increasing cost, complexity, size and power footprint, not to mention regulatory complexity) there’s no easy way to do it. There’s a reason why Polar is moving away from T-31 with their higher end products ;)

  3. From your lips to God’s (or Garmin’s) ears! I am new to your blog. Just found it (I did the NYC Tri too). You have a lot of good stuff here.

    I just started doing tri’s last year and am still using my Foreunner 50. It has been great, but I have been wanting to upgrade to a GPS unit. As you mention, not one watch seems to do everything I would like it to do. It’s all about compromise at this point for me.

    I ‘stole’ two photos from your NYC Tri RR (given credit of course with a link to your site): the swim exit and the card with all the swim waves on it.

    Thanks for such an insightful look at these devices; it’s clear you have given this a lot of thought.

  4. This watch sounds like a dream! Hopefully your forecast of 18 months is correct.

    I didn’t know that polar made a HR strap that can transmit in the water, I have a nike HR monitor which ‘partially’ works, it tracks my HR but it is so low there’s no way it’s accurate. I wonder if the polar strap will work with the nike watch?
    Thanks again for another awesome post!

  5. Nice points. I have the FR305, and thought the form factor would be an issue, but its really not.

    You know what I really want – an open system so that when someone invents a new device that new device can “push” data to the watch and the watch will understand and display the data.

  6. I think in a few years the watch you described may hit store shelves. The problem is that if you build a better device that new device increases inventory of older devices (which you don’t want in a recession). Personally, I’d also want the watch to be the wrist version of the ipod touch.

  7. I’m not sure that the Runkeeper app does what you seem to indicate here. You mention it in the same paragraph as GPS Trakkers, which provides real-time info on the web about the athlete’s progress. The Runkeeper app isn’t continuously uploading data to the web, but only does so once, when you select “Save Run”. I’d be very interested to know if there are real-time location apps that also roll in training data (split, pace, etc.)

  8. I see now that RunKeeper does do real-time tracking and updating to the web, but I can’t tell if this is available to all users or only those who pay for “Fitness Reports” – it was only available to those users when first released, at any rate. But there are some other apps out there, at least one, Runmeter, that does real-time updates to the web and there’s no additional cost (beyond the price of the app).

  9. I think Garmin is going to have to get on a yearly update schedule. There’s a lot of competition out there, coming at them from all sides, and two years is an eternity in this day and age.

  10. Hi Iosephus-

    Yup, the realtime GPS tracking is only available to the subscription service folks, though it’s really darn cool (played with it a few times). There’s a few other similiar phone-based ones out there as well.

  11. Dan

    I liked your comment that “Lastly, the device would use a standards based file format.’ But you should go further – it should also use a standard transfer format that is usable by *any* computer (i.e. Operating System), not just Windows. It drives me nuts that I cannot (easily) use my Linux systems with many of these cool gadgets!

  12. Hello i want one of these watches as well you knw that th gps positioning from a celphone works i use a program named gpsgate from This is qiuet good it shows you position but does not integrate any heartrate cadence power etc etc…

  13. I’d get one of those :)

  14. I have searched the internet but can’t find any information about Ant+ FS straps. Do you know more about when such straps will be available and which companies will be making them.


  15. Anonymous


    Great stuff, as always.

    Just wanted to let you know that with the latest software update now publicly available, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X8, X10mini, and X10minipro now have the ANT+ sensor technology embedded in them enabled. If you’d have any interest in checking them out, Sony Ericsson has a free device loaner program available in the US where you can get a device for up to a month to check it out, especially with apps.
    Peter K.

  16. Hi Peter!

    Yup, I have seen the development program. But I got word from the Sony Ericcson folks that they’re going to send me some of the newer units here shortly. Looking forward to it!

  17. Anonymous

    I agree!! I hope when this device is available you know immediately and then write about it so I can go buy it!! (I plan to stalk your webpage now…)

  18. Hi,
    I bought a Garmin 310XT. I wasn’t going to keep it due to its big size but after reading your wonderful review-I’ve changed my mind. It appears to be great for all sports and I LOVE the long battery life. Your reviews (just found them today) are very, very helpful. I appreciate your minute details. Crossfit Junkie (from Prince Edward Island)

  19. Jerry

    I like your suggestions on swimming requirements but I think you need to add something else. Stroke count and distance is nice, but pace is the most important metric when trying to develop your distance swimming skills. Whether meters or yards you should always know your benchmark pace by 100’s or by 50’s. “Knowing” your pace i.e. internal speedometer is the hardest “skill” to teach swimmers and a watch that can tell your speed real-time is a huge aid.

  20. Dmitry Pupkov

    DC Raymaker, it would very interesting to compare 2010-expectations with 2020-reality; and adding 2020-expectations on top.