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Over the last month as part of Garmin’s new devices extravaganza, there was barely a mention of ‘live event sharing’ for certain devices. It was almost listed as fine print, right next to ‘if you do something stupid using our device, it’s your fault’. But, it was listed – so let’s dive into it a bit.
First off – your moment of disappointment. Or rather, my moment. If you’ve got iOS – you need not apply. This is an Android only feature.
The reason? Blame Apple.
Well, sorta…kinda…maybe…not really. We’ll talk about that later.
The quick overview is that this feature will automatically text friends/family with specific race splits and estimated finish times when the lap button is triggered, as well as at the start/finish. Laps can be done via auto-lap of course. The idea here being that if you’ve got friends/family (aka: your peeps) following you out on the course itself, they can figure out when you’ll be done running and ready to start drinking beer.
Oh, wait, you want a quick overview? Great, I went out and put together a nifty overview video for you. Enjoy:
Or, you can walk through all the boring steps below. No scenic views there.
Setting it up:
Now this gets into a little bit of why the entire thing is Android only. See, on iOS, Apple doesn’t permit 3rd party apps (or even Apple apps to my knowledge) from accessing your text messages or sending text messages on your behalf. This is also why quick replies on both Fitbit and Garmin devices only work with Android, and not iOS (though, this is an area that Apple makes an exception for their own Apple Watch).
These are all due to security/privacy restrictions. While one can have an argument about that all day long, it won’t likely change Apple’s mind anytime soon. However, that doesn’t mean Garmin has to take the path they took. When it comes to quick replies for sexts with your BFF, sure, you want to keep it on your device.
But most other tracking platforms that want to leverage text messages will instead utilize a 3rd party service from Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or others. It’s super commonplace, and in fact, Garmin does it themselves for their new safety features. So why they went the route of requiring your phone send the message is a bit odd. When asked, Garmin says that for now it’s limited to Android, but that they’re always looking at other options. Ultimately, using 3rd party platforms does cost money (albeit, not a ton in this case). And in fact, Garmin leverages that same platform for their safety and notification features.
In any case, over on your Android phone whack the hamburger menu and scroll down to the Safety & Tracking menu. Here you’ll want to ensure your device is selected under the ‘Devices’ section.
Next, you’ll need to choose some peeps. You’ll select these from your local contacts list. They *must* have a phone number assigned to them, since it will text to them. It can’t be an e-mail address or anything. This is a text-only thing. You can select up to five friends.
Then we’ve got two basic piles of options. The first is ‘Message Content’, which defines what your friends and family will receive in the text message. You’ll see in the middle screenshot below you can toggle four options.
A) Cumulative time
B) Current Pace/Speed
C) Last Lap Time
D) Estimated Completion Time
Estimated completion time requires that you tell the app exactly what you’re planning on running. They’ve got some quick presets in there: 5K/10K/Half/Marathon, and then the custom option. The custom option is useful for wonky races that just wanna be special. Or, you can use it for a training route, like I did yesterday while cycling.
Also, fun tidbit I tried: You can actually change the custom distance value mid-activity. So in my case I tweaked my route after I started my ride, and it properly showed the new ETA’s.
And last but not least there’s the ‘Message Triggers’ menu, which tells the app how often to send text messages. By default all these options are selected. So it’ll send a message the second you press the start button, and then anytime either an auto-lap or manual lap is pressed, plus when you press the ‘Save’ button at the end of the workout.
After that, you’re ready to roll. There’s *zero* configuration to be done on your watch itself. Note that the live event tracking option will remain enabled for 24 hours. So if you forgot to disable it, it’ll stop doing its thing 24 hours later.
How it works:
This section will be really short. It’s kinda really simple.
Now – to be clear, since none of the supported watches have cellular capabilities built into them, you’ll absolutely need your phone with you. Only Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 LTE has cellular services, and that’s not on the list of loved devices. Somewhat odd given that’s like *the most viable* device for this concept. Of course, that’d require more of an app redesign since the functionality would have to live within the watch itself, rather than be offloaded to the app.
In any event, just press the start button on your darn watch. When you do so, your friends will immediately get notified that you’ve begun. This would ideally be used at the moment you crossed the starting line (which would happen if you pressed the start button then like a normal person).
You’ll notice there’s no live tracking link in terms of map or anything, just what you see above. However, Garmin says that’s on the short-list to do, basically including the live tracking URL link to access the map like on a regular live track session.
Next, if you have auto-lap enabled, your contacts will automatically receive an update each time that triggers. For example, cycling yesterday I set it to every 5 miles (the default for cycling), whereas for my run today it was every mile (also the default). However, because I hadn’t had coffee yet this morning, I manually lapped at one point when trying to dismiss an incoming text – and thus that also sent an update to my friends/family. In any case, here’s what they get:
You can see the information displayed includes:
Current Distance/Duration: .51 miles in 3:37 Average Pace overall: 7:05/mile Last Lap (in this case, the .51 miles): 3:37 Estimated finish: 21 minutes and 58 seconds, as well as being 10:53AM
It’s honestly that last line that’s most useful to people, especially friends and family trying to figure out how you’re pacing. Here’s how it look as an auto-lap (spoiler, it looks identical):
One interesting tidbit though as a result of being native texts versus a 3rd party platform is that your friends and family can text back messages to you and it’ll show up on your watch assuming you’ve left the defaults (you can turn it off if you want). Of course, if you do start hurling motivational insults back and forth, just remember to watch where you’re going while running. Hard to find a good comeback when you just ran into a ‘no parking’ sign.
When you do finish, after you press the ‘save’ button, your friends and family will receive a text message with your final finishing time (the lower of the two bubbles below). This isn’t tied to your course distance, so if you run longer, that’s fine – it won’t send this till you press the save button.
And that’s that. It basically works exactly as it says it does. It’s actually kinda cool, and I found it slightly more useful to send to The Girl than the random blue dot tracking link, since this way she doesn’t have to keep loading a map screen. It just alerted her yesterday after 5 miles on my ride that I was still chugging along and my ETA. Of course, a bit more work to set that up for each ride having to put in my estimated distance, but – a handy option nonetheless.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Here’s a quick round-up of what I figure will be the most common questions.
It seems likely any future wearables after this point in time would likely have the feature by default.
Will Garmin add it to older watches?
They aren’t saying no. In fact, they noted that they hadn’t decided on which older devices will get it. Which somewhat implies some older devices might get it. Given it’s entirely app-driven (or, presumably so – though there may be some minor ties to the actual pushing of the lap button triggering something on the phone), the ‘cost’ for Garmin to enable older devices should be relatively low (compared to new firmware for older devices).
Why doesn’t this work with the new Garmin Edge devices?
Not sure. Today is today, but tomorrow comes soon. Maybe the answer will change then.
What phones does this work with?
Any Android phone that Garmin Connect Mobile runs on. That’s Garmin’s smartphone app.
Do I have to take my phone with me while running?
Yes. Your watch uses your phone’s cellular network to send the text messages.
Will the texts appear from me, or from some random number?
They’ll show up as you.
If my friends text back, can I see their texts?
Assuming you have your watch configured that way (which is the default), you’ll see their texts mid-activity. You can disable this is you dislike your friends.
How long does it take for the text message to get to my friends?
In my testing it varied. It was as little as 5 seconds in some cases, and as long as 30 seconds in others. In general it seemed like it was faster in the city, and slower out in the countryside. In my case I was on two totally different mobile carriers as well, which would likely be normal.
Does this cost anything?
Garmin doesn’t charge anything, but you’ll have to pay for text messages just the same as texting your BFF eggplants and peaches.
Can I change it from miles to kilometers?
Yes, it’ll use whatever is setup on your watch as your preferred metric.
Does this work for cycling events?
Yes and no. I tried it out yesterday for a ride and it worked just fine in terms of the ETA and such, however, it kept showing ‘running pace (7;00/mile)’ instead of ‘speed (25MPH)’. A minor nit that I’m sure could be easily fixed by just adhering to the sport profile used (cycling vs running). The estimated time was within about 2-3 minutes of my actual finish time – not bad given I crossed the city twice.
Are you still doing a review on the Garmin MARQ?
Yup. In fact, if you look carefully in the video at the beginning…well…you’ll have to look carefully.
Will the app automatically use a loaded course distance?
No, not at this time, it’s totally manual.
Why won’t this work on my Apple iPhone?
Because Apple doesn’t permit 3rd party apps to send text messages on your behalf. Those apps have to use 3rd party SMS services instead (which doesn’t show up as you). That’s also why both Fitbit and Garmin have quick replies on their watches for Android users, but not iOS users. Garmin could work around this by using the same tech they use for their new safety notification features however.
Is this allowed in my race?
It depends on the race, but in general most running races allow phones for tracking (just often not wearing headphones). Triathlons however generally don’t allow phones, or if they do they don’t often allow two-way communications. Either way, check the rules of your race, but again, virtually all running races allow phones.
If you’re an Android user planning on running a race (and have friends), then this is actually pretty useful, especially if you were planning on dragging your phone along. For many non-running focused people, trying to figure out the whole blue dot map tracking thing is a frustrating experience. Whereas just having it text you each time you cross a mile marker – that’s much easier to understand, especially with pacing and estimated completion splits.
Certainly there are some nuances to using this in a race. For example most people run long in a race (see this older analysis post I did on that), due to swerving around people and taking corners wider than the measured standard. And atop that, any GPS-related accuracy issues (which would be under or over), and there’s a tiny bit of imprecision here. Still, for people standing on the sidelines – being a few seconds later or earlier won’t really matter much. Especially compared to standing on the sidelines of a marathon for 3-5 hours.
Now we’ve seen Garmin re-focus on the live connected/tracking bits in the last few months, such as the new safety/assistance features rolled out. And now these live event features. I’m optimistic we’ll see more to come, and Garmin seems to indicate that’s the case. It sounds like this was basically ‘Release 1’ of a larger slate of ideas here. Given it’s been 8-9 years since Garmin first added live tracking to their platform and more or less never touched it again, I’m hoping we’ll see this receive a bit more love.
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