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Earlier today Suunto released their 2.0 firmware for their Ambit watch, which has previously been targeted primarily at the hiking and ultra running crowd. Though this update will move it a long way towards bringing in other segments as well, primarily the non-ultra running crowd. This November update was announced as far back as this past spring, and once again shows that Suunto is able to not only announce updates and new features in advance, but also keep to a schedule in doing so – hitting their goal with one day to spare. In pre-announcing these releases, I’m 100% certain that this has likely kept a significant number of folks from purchasing the competitive Garmin Fenix unit (I see/hear it daily in comments across many posts).
The update introduces new functionality areas to not only the watch, but also the Movescount site. The official release notes lists the following functionality ads:
Ambit 2.0 related features and improvements: – ANT+ support – Foot POD support – Interval timer – Suunto Apps support – Tighter speed fusion filter giving more stable running pace – Exercise summary to show the number of manual laps (in previous version the number of laps included manual, auto and pause laps combined) – Pausing no longer interferes with lap count in the Ambit – Improvement of log memory capacity when using GPS
Ambit 2.0 related Movescount improvements & bug fixes: – Faster updating of satellite orbit data during Moveslink synchronization – Individual selection of all PODs in custom exercise modes in Movescount – Fixed minimum/maximum value bug in Movescount – Lap notes to differentiate autolaps and pause laps in Movescount – Ambit release notes available from GEAR page in Movescount – Sorting option added for POIs & routes in Movescount – Fixed a bug of Movescount not using avg cadence calculated by the Ambit
Despite the laundry list of new functionality, I’m going to focus on two core areas in this post:
1) ANT+ support 2) Suunto Apps (and the ability to make your own)
These are the areas which I think are most significant, as well as most requested and most relevant. Everything else falls into the ‘nice to have’ category, but generally weren’t deal breakers. It should be noted that the 2.0 update is a free update that’s available today. You can grab it by opening up the Moveslink agent installed on your computer and following the text in the updater. It took me only a few minutes to update.
ANT+ Accessory Support
First, the ANT+ support. In adding ANT+ support they’ve left behind the previous Suunto ANT. This was a proprietary variant of ANT that required you purchase separate Suunto branded accessories that only worked with Suunto devices. Now the Ambit works with any ANT+ device within the device classes I’ll talk about in a second. Of course they’ll still pair with your older Suunto-only accessories as well.
Suunto has decided to support five classes of ANT+ devices for the 2.0 release. The supported device profiles are:
They are not however in release 2.0 supporting the following ANT+ device profiles:
1) ANT+ Power Meters 2) ANT+ Temperature Sensors (such as the Tempe) 3) ANT+ Weigh Scales
It’s unclear whether or not they plan to support those sensors in the future, though they have been very specific in wording around “Release 2.0” and these device profiles, implying that additional releases may support these sensors.
These sensors are paired in much the same way as you previously paired the Suunto POD sensors. You head into the pairing menu within the settings area by holding down the ‘NEXT’ button for a couple seconds:
Then you figure out which type of device you’re planning to pair, and you select it from the list:
Taking for example the footpod, first it’ll ask you to active your footpod. Essentially, just shake the footpod to wake it up:
Then, it’ll start searching a few seconds later:
A second or two after that, it’ll successfully find the footpod and notify you. I was able to successfully pair both a generic ANT+ Timex footpod, as well as a Suunto footpod – no issues with either.
The procedure is essentially the same for the heart rate strap as well:
If you’re pairing a bike sensor of any sort, you’ve only got one bike sensor choice. It’ll automatically iterate through the different types of bike sensors – i.e. speed-only, cadence-only, and speed/cadence combo sensors.
Of course, those familiar with the Ambit know that up until now – it didn’t even support the Suunto footpods, so this is big news! Note however that there isn’t any manual calibration option for the footpod, which is a bit of a shame. In order to manually calibrate it, you’ll need to run with it first, then post-run you can dive into a given lap and adjust the lap distance accordingly, which will in turn prompt to calibrate the unit.
Note that it does not display the ANT+ ID’s at any point, nor give any warnings if there are multiple ANT+ devices in the area. It just picks one and goes with it.
Data collection is managed in the same fashion as before as well, and in many ways, once you’ve paired the sensor you won’t really notice anything different on the unit itself, nor in the data collection or display. All of that largely remains the same. In essence, cadence is cadence, it’s just simply coming from a different unit.
It’s unclear at this time whether or not Suunto will start producing Suunto branded ANT+ sensors, or if they’ll continue to produce the Suunto-only variant. Obviously, if you’re looking at any sensors, I’d strongly recommend you buy anything other than the Suunto branded sensors at this time, since that locks you into the Suunto devices, rather than opening you up to the massive ANT+ ecosystem (devices, apps, etc…).
The real question becomes when they’ll support the power meter sensor type. In doing so, they’d be the first wrist-watch form factor to support an ANT+ power meter, especially with a barometric altimeter, would be incredible (Note to clarify that I’m referring to a day to day watch form factor, the FR310XT/910XT aren’t day to day watches). Combining that with the app functionality below, and you’ve instantly got an incredibly powerful and highly customizable power meter head unit. So much so that I suspect it would immediately start to pull away market share from products like the FR310XT, FR910XT, CycleOps Joule GPS, Magellan Switch and to a lesser extent the Timex Global Trainer (the TGT and Ambit price categories don’t really mesh too well).
Finally, Tempe support. Tempe is Garmin’s new $30 ANT+ external temperature pod that works with the Fenix. The goal of the device is to remove ones body heat from the outside temperature equation – which both the Ambit and Fenix are impacted by in temperature measurements. And while the Tempe is a Garmin device, it’s also fundamentally an ANT+ device utilizing an established and open ANT+ device profile. Meaning that Suunto could add support for it. Some have argued that by doing so they’d be effectively giving revenue to Garmin. And while that’s true, that’s highly shortsighted. By doing so, they’re giving $30 of revenue to Garmin (well, the consumer, not them), and taking $500 for themselves (Suunto). Seems like an easy and obvious win for Suunto to me.
Perhaps the most intriguing addition to the watch is Suunto Apps, which enables you to create apps that you can run on your Suunto Ambit. At a fundamental level, this is huge – and has the potential to be industry shifting. No other traditional sports watch maker has allowed you to create and run your own apps on yours device. There are some sport-friendly watches (such as Metawatch and Pebble) coming into the market that will enable similar scenarios, and there has been some work done with the Motoactv in a jail broken scenario – but nothing in any of those cases has yet approached critical mass, or something that my Mom would download and/or use if she had such a device. It’s just too techie today. But the Ambit changes that – it makes it easy and mainstream.
Now, I say ‘potential’ above, because at present, the ability to create apps is a bit limited. So let’s go ahead and walk through how the platform works.
First up, you’ll login to the Movescount site and navigate to the Tools and then App Designer area:
It’s here that you’ll start to create your app. You’ll give it a name, select an activity type (such as running, skiing, etc..), and then set whether or not it’s a public app. This allows you to share the apps if you’d like, or you can keep them private. You can also select a photo to depict the purpose of the app.
Finally, you’ll set a category (used for categorization of apps in their app store, not to drive any specific functionality), as well as set a description.
With those core areas set, it’s time to being some development. Except, unlike traditional app development, this requires no coding or late nights with Mountain Dew and pizza. Rather, just creativity and a goal.
You’ll start off with setting a variable/value to work from. You’ve got quite a few options. These are effectively any metric the watch offers – such as pace, time, temperature, etc… You can see some of these displayed below, and there’s tabs with plenty others:
Then it’s time to take that variable and do something with it. This effort primarily comes down to creating simple mathematical equations. You can see the addition/subtraction/multiplication/division signs off to the right.
As you’re doing so, you’re creating a display for the watch. On the bottom of the screen you’ll see what is in effect a real-time test unit. You can continue to add additional variables, and for the variables/values, you can also set prefixes and suffixes. For example, in the above I’ve gone ahead and relabeled BPM (beats per minute) to DCR’s (me). The power here comes in creating these customized units. For example, you’ll see one sample app that calculates allowable chocolate consumption based on activity duration (yes, I said, chocolate, like the chocolate bar). In doing so, it provides that chocolate allowance to you in grams. It uses the grams custom label to do so.
Once you’re done creating your custom value, you can save it and either add it to your own library, or publish it. All apps in the library display the exact equations being offered – so you can easily copy the app design and tweak it. No apps cost anything, they’re all free.
After you’ve got the apps on your watch and in your library, you can go ahead and add those functions to normal data displays. To illustrate this, I took the Alpine Skiing training profile I had on my unit, and customized it to add an app called “Downhill”, which determines how many ski runs I completed that day:
From there, in my Alpine Skiing profile, I simply selected one of the display fields and then selected the App name, which allowed me to add it to that profile. Very easy.
If you go into the App Zone today, it’s been seeded with apps by both Suunto as well as those from the community, as of this morning there were 6 pages of apps, with about 6-8 apps per page. I expect this to explode in growth of the next few weeks and months. It allows you to sort the apps as well, by Most Used, Most Like, and Latest. Search is on the right side, including category and activity support.
For fun, I picked out a few of the following to show you real quick. First up is an app that determines how many ski runs you’ve taken. It does this by simply taking your total descent that day, by the descent of your first run (which you mark using lap).
Next we have my favorite – the Train for Chocolate app. This determines how many grams of chocolate you can eat, using calories as the baseline.
The next is a really good example of a simple app that extends the functionality of the watch into areas that should likely be in there natively. With this though, it doesn’t really cost Suunto anything and it’s easy to add.
This is another example of functionality that’s commonly in most watches (% of Max HR), and adds it in easily via an app.
The below app is interesting, but could be tweaked to provide for a more useful experience. This app gives you a virtual pacer approach – but against a elite marathoner (world record holder). But, they could easily create an app to show your pacing against common marathon goals like 4:00 hours, 3:30, etc… Again, you’re seeing apps fill in the place for features that are common place on other watches.
Lastly, a Ironman Finisher countdown clock. This app tells you your current ETA for finishing the run segment, based on current pacing.
As you can see, there’s quite a variation – some simple, and some more complex. Some fun, and some with specific training purpose.
The app concept is definitely cool. It’s innovative, and completely a game changer in this marketplace. I spoke about apps on sports devices two years ago at the ANT+ Symposium, and it’s awesome to see it finally come to fruition. Ultimately, Suunto recognizes that in order for them to stay competitive with cell phones, they need to open up their devices to allow folks to expand upon them. Mobile will only continue to increase technologically and from a ruggedness and sensor standpoint, and thus functions like these keep standalone watches in the game.
That all said, as cool is this is, I feel that in order for them to really break away from the market they’re going to have to allow folks to actually write real applications. Not just drag and drag variables. But allow developers a framework with an SDK to create truly innovative apps on the unit with real code. Since the unit includes a 3D accelerometer, as well as a compass, barometric altimeter, and GPS – the sky is really the limit. A 3D accelerometer would potentially allow someone to create a swim/pool distance tracking app. Or to track the movements of any other sport – similar to that of the Motoactv with sports like Golf and Yoga.
That’s where the power starts to really manifest itself. If they do that (and find a way to lower the Ambit price point $100) – I think they’ll quickly sweep the market. You’ll likely see a similar explosion of apps for the Ambit as you did for the phone platform. The ability for companies like Strava, RunKeeper TrainingPeaks and others to run their apps directly on the watch is huge.
Which isn’t to take away from what Suunto released today, but rather to show the potential here in what they’ve begun.
No doubt, this release is significant for Suunto. It not only furthers to heat up the competitive battle with the Garmin Fenix, but it also clearly says “Your move, Garmin.” If you look at the comparison table and where things stand now, both watches are closer than ever. I’ve included the table below, though since it’s updated in real-time from the new product comparison tool, you may have to click to see it on the site (if you’re viewing via RSS feed).
Overall, I still believe that both units continue to be overpriced – just slightly less so now. I’d still like to see the ability to create workouts ported to the Ambit, as well as an interval mode (the update ads a very basic repeating interval timer, but it’s really not a true interval mode like most other units have). Note that neither watch has that today. And with the Ambit, for the extra $100 more than the Fenix, it needs to start to take advantage of some of the raw underlying features of the watch (such as the 3D Accelerometer), which is only used today in the FusedSpeed (which did get a stability update as part of the 2.0 release).
That all said – I’m excited about the changes that they released. And I’m even more excited to see what comes next from both Suunto, as well as any competitive response from others. This only serves to benefit the consumer – and that’s awesome for all of us.
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