DC Rainmaker State of Sports Tech 2021 Keynote

It’s up! The 2021 State of Sports Tech Keynote that was delivered last week, encompassing everything going well…and not so well, in the sports tech industry. From watches to indoor training sensors to action cams, and given this is an industry-focused event – also the degradation of standards in the fitness realm.

For a decade now I’ve been giving a ‘State of Sports Tech’ annual keynote each fall. Historically this has been delivered at the ANT+ Symposium. But that was discontinued last year, and thus instead the venue shifted to the Garmin Developer Virtual Conference. But, the annual keynote keeps focused on the same thing – regardless of the hosting event.

Remember, the audience for the presentation is the sports tech industry, not specifically consumers. Though, I’ve found over the last decade that many DCR Readers are interested in the presentation, and thus tend to enjoy the dive behind the scenes.  As always, while the presentation may be held in one venue or another, neither Garmin nor any other entity has any control of what I say. Nor do they pay me for it.

As with most years, I start off with the overall trends, and then dig into each of the trends deeper throughout the presentation. I talk about everything from concerns with how anti-cheating controls are handled in the rise of Esports, to how the lack of in-person industry events over the last year has contributed a growing neglect of standards and cross-product integration. On the flip side I talk about all the cool stuff too. From police units using Varia radar to deal with bad drivers, and continuous glucose monitoring maybe finally getting its moment in the sports sun.

Ok, intro over, just hit ‘Play’ on the presentation below. I’ve put in YouTube chapters so you can dig around and find the sections that are most interesting to you. You’ll see those as you drag along the timeline in the video.

Oh, and here’s the 2020 edition, if you want to watch that. Or, the entire playlist of all past ones is here.

With that – thanks for watching, and reading!


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  1. Rich

    Hi Ray – great video, which software did you use to pull the presentation together? cheers

  2. andre

    “keeping firmware/feature updates flowing to older devices instills brand loyalty”

    Indeed. My wife’s iPhone 7+ and my sons 6 year old iPhone SE still gets the latest iOs updates which add cool and useful functionality. I love that.

    When Garmin introduced software updates to for the Edge series which let the user choose what do do when you get off route (like get back to the route or re-calculate the route) it was only released on the top of the line models. I own a Garmin Edge explore and how poorly it handles “off route” situations is my biggest annoyance with the device. But my device (which is not even “old” nor cheap) did not get this feature which I see as something that should have been there in the first place.

    Maybe Garmin hopes that this makes it more attractive for Explore users to upgrade to a more expensive model but the opposite is true: I find it hugely disapointing.

    • Alan W.

      Indeed, Andre, I couldn’t agree more. Apple and Wahoo get this, Garmin and many others do not.

      Same with Rays point that “users want integration, they’ll reward you for it with purchases” – I bet Wahoo got lots of additional purchases after supporting the Garmin Varia, which as Ray also says has nowhere nearly reached its full potential for improving cycling safety.

      But I fear that attempts to protect market share will continue to be the major influence, even though in the longer run they will surely be counter productive.

    • jww

      I view Varia as precisely the opposite, Alan.

      As I understand Garmin made a choice to open ANT radar support to any head units, including Wahoo. Garmin could have kept it for themselves, and sold more Edge products. But instead put cyclist safety ahead of internal profits.

      The counter example is Wahoo’s KICKR elevation thing. Wahoo said at launch that’d soon support Tacx and other trainers, though (I believe) changed course once Tacx later became part of Garmin. Closed ecosystem to protect their own profits.

      Both approaches are understandable – and admittedly it’s easier to put safety over profit when you’re worth $30 billion.

    • madmalkav

      NARRATOR: after saying that on an event sponsored by Garmin, Ray was never again invited.

    • GLT

      Always good to see a variety of perspectives.

      Once upon a time firmware updates were generally fixes to bugs that were severe enough that the original intent of the device was diminished. Obviously the mechanisms to distribute & apply updates have improved since those dark times. Customer expectations have evolved. Modern devices are sold with excess resources to provide for some level of enhancements. In general though, if it does what it says on the box I consider the transaction complete.

      As far as good & bad examples of post-sales enhancement and support goes, consensus may be hard to find. As another owner of a six year old phone (size) what would have useful for me in the last update would have been just security fixes. The update that was actually provided has made continued use of the device impractical in my case. User misconfiguration & overnight failures in the battery tech can be safely ruled out. The cost savings achieved by not extensively testing each & every configuration of older devices for every update is easy to imagine. But if the end goal is to please the customer then why risk their brand loyalty on an untested update?

      In my mind a reasonable dividing line is safety & security fixes ought to be free and fully tested on all devices through their published warranty period. If the fix makes the device substantially less useful than the day it was purchased then some kind of exchange or rebate seems appropriate. Yes, a variety of changes to warranty lengths & terms would need to happen. Multi-tiered warranties already exist it just that the dealer or customer support agent is the gatekeeper of the policy knowledge.

      For enhancements and new features on an older device I’m fine with paying in more. Part of that payment is to cover the testing costs and extend the software warranty.

    • andre

      @GLT: in the case of the Iphones we have in the family, it is indeed security updates and new features.

      But in the case of my Garmin, it is something that should have been there in the first place. Or, since software development is an ongoing process, something that could (should?) have been brought to the device in an update.

      Problem is is that you go off-route, the Explore tries to get you back to the waypoint you missed. So if a road is blocked or you decide to take a different road, shortcut, or ride on the other side of the canal, it will try to get you back to the waypoint. There is no way to change this, even if you press “allow recalculation” on the screen or have this set to do automatically in the settings.

      This is highly annoying because the device will prompt you to make a U turn for the rest of your trip. Since there is almost always a roadblock or a detour on a longer route, this will happen more often than not. It is a bad experience every time it happens. It just sucks. For me it is a reason NOT to recommend the Edge Explore to others.

      When I bought the device, a little more than a year ago, I knew that it didn’t have some features that other devices do have. Like powermeters of live segments. I am fine with that and I do not expect to receive those features in an upgrade. The edge explore is a *navigation* device. If the navigation has a serious flaw and Garmin fixes it in the more expensive, more feature-rich devices only it will not make me want to go out and buy the more expensive edge 1030 to get that fix. On the contrary, I will look what other brands have to offer instead.

    • GLT

      In the specific example of the Edge Explore I am in agreement. It isn’t a particularly old device & there isn’t a newer direct replacement in their product line. If I owned an Explore I would bring the points up with customer support so the company understood the interest level from an authenticated customer.

      That being said, I would still pay a reasonable amount for the navigation enhancements if they were certified on that product. It is less a matter of navigation being defective and more a matter of a better navigation experience presumably being possible. It the update scheme that exists today the only choice is for Garmin to give it away for free, and I expect that sometimes means they instead decline entirely.

    • Jason Day

      It’s a great point, and why I’ve been thinking of moving from Garmin to Polar as they seem to understand that ecosystem piece.

  3. Peter Blair

    Ray – any plans to look at any of the connected home gyms? Tempo Studio, Tonal, and Mirror seem to be the leading contenders, and a pretty interesting new beach head market ala Peloton. Tempo and Tonal in particular seem to be quite complementary/additive to the indoor training world.

  4. Martin Richards

    Really interesting talk. I’m a long term gadget nut / data freak rather than honed athlete, but I do a lot of hill walking and mountaineering as well as running and biking, so have a pile of dead-end kit (Sony Ant+ phones anyone? SatMap Active 10 GPS and the ludicrously expensive mapping?) as well as early Garmin ForeRunners, plus the original Fenix. A few thoughts from that perspective

    1) despite the spelling, it’s said Yorksh-eer (like hear) not Yorksh-ire (like hire) :-)
    2) Yes please to more watch apps that don’t need the phone too. But… if I have both with me, let me choose the data sources! I know the Apple Watch GPS is better than my iPhone GPS (even on the new 13), so let me select the AW GPS rather than having to turn off Bluetooth if I want to run with Stryd but listen to BBC Sounds from the phone :-(
    3) Subs for platforms when you’ve already spent a fortune on the gadget? Ouch, no thanks, unless there’s real value-add. Apple Health and Fitness apps are pretty good for day to day monitoring, but less good for history. I really don’t get on with Strava but I’ve used SportTracks for years first as a desktop client and now online; I pay for that to see all my data from all my exercise from all my devices in one place. But needing a Fitbit sub to see more than 7 days of data off my Fitbit? That’s taking the Mickey
    4) Battery life and looks: I really like the look and battery life of the newest Fenix and its ilk, but the Apple Watch just works so well with the iPhone, MacBook etc…. I can get by with the AW6 for most things including sleep tracking by charging each morning while I shower and caffeinate(!), but please Apple, can I have chunky Fenix style with AW functionality *and* enough battery for a long weekend hill walking/camping trip? (That’s maybe 10-12 hours per day of GPS tracking)
    5) AW6 already gives me continuous HR and O2 sat monitoring, with rumours of BP coming to watches soon. In this vein, CGM looks to be a really interesting area (data freak who likes chocolate biscuits too much speaking…) – how’s that SuperSapiens review coming? :-)

    Cheers, Martin

    PS one more on selecting the data sources, Stryd: please let me set the start altitude per run! I’m sure your barometric elevation figures through the run are OK (well, as long as no weather fronts come through) but Oxfordshire is not at 18m BELOW sea level as you seem to think…

  5. morey000

    Great presentation Ray.

    But… did I hear you encourage Garmin to start charging a monthly fee for our performance management data? Agggh, Nooooooooo!

    I just figured that Garmin was saving Running Power as a feature only available (native) on the Fenix 7
    …which I now believe will have a really nifty new display and look a bit more elegant.
    …and I will be forced to buy it,
    ….for some obscene price nearing that of an iphone.

    • Not necessarily actually (and certainly not at the high-end watch level).

      I think my point was that there were basically three routes they could take for a Whoop competitor. Garmin has shown interest in subscription services, and in some ways, for potentially a low-cost band, that might be one way to handle that.

      Whereas higher-end devices would get those features built-in.

  6. IronGuy

    Great presentation Ray! I was only going to watch a few sections and fast forward but I watched the whole thing. This provides great insight as always.

  7. Travis Melville

    That was pretty cool watching.
    With reference to the Police, can I ask where you got the info from? I would like to pass it on.


  8. portemat

    Some more interesting bits on the South Yorkshire Police / Varia story.

    The cyclist pictured is Dame Sarah Storey, she is a pro cyclist (and Britain’s most successful Paralympian). She is no slouch on bike!

    Having spent the past few years working for an American company, the translation from English to American of “which is disappointing” is “which is absolutely awful”!

  9. inSyt

    Incoming in 2022: Whoop competitor from Polar/Garmin.

    courtesy of DCR

    • We’ll see. My point was more along the lines of: Seriously, wtf, how have you guys not done this yet?

    • GLT

      I imagine the plan on how to combine all the point sources of recovery & performance data across all a users devices would take some thought. It isn’t clear TrueUp is doing everything required with that yet.

      It would be interesting to see statistics on how often enthusiasts vs atheletes follow recovery advice. Regardless of the time left in the recovery period, how low body battery may read, what the suggested work out is, and how bad the performance condition lists after starting a bad weather forecast for the rest of the week is going to tempt people to go ahead and force something in.

  10. He A

    Do you think Suunto will continue to work on WearOS products? The S7 has really started turning into a great product for my own personal use. I’ve noticed that Suunto have gone pretty quiet on the S7 ever since Google announced WearOS 3 though. Would love a S7 gen 2 running WearOS 3 once manufacturers other than Samsung get access.

    • I’d hope so. Mostly, because I don’t see how they’ll survive as a company, competition-wise without it.

      It’s only going to become more and more difficult to compete with Garmin (and apparently now too, COROS). And while the Suunto 9 Peak was a good start physically speaking, it’s still a very tough sell market-wise.

      Whereas a focus on a Suunto 7 V2 (or whatever they call it), using WearOS 3, with half-way decent battery life (Huawei level), could be super compelling.

    • He A

      Even with todays battery on the S7 I’m pretty happy. I’m quite the casual runner, and even my hikes rarely last more than 4 hours. The smart features are also really nice. Only thing I really miss on mine is the ability to customize HR zones so I can follow a few of the training plans I’ve found.

  11. Andy Long

    Great that Strava are picking up running power data – but they really need to separate out the power curve from bike and run activities into two different pages – my stryd power numbers are much higher than my bike for long efforts and much lower for short efforts but they land on the same curve making it useless.

  12. Sean K.

    Speaking of market trends, ArsTechnica had some data from Counterpoint Research. It illustrates some of the market swings with Samsung’s switch to WearOS. Full article here:

    link to arstechnica.com

    • Yeah, I’m pretty skeptical of this one. These sorts of data streams are always to be taken with a grain of salt, but frankly, this one just doesn’t make sense.

      We’re talking a 5X increase in sales in the same quarter YoY for WearOS, at a time with there’s been zero new Wear OS devices, aside from Samsung’s, which didn’t come till the last month of the quarter. Not only that, but up till that point mainstream tech had (rightfully) told consumers NOT to buy Wear OS devices since basically none of them are getting updated to the newer version of Wear OS.

      Then we look at the Samsung side. In the Counterpoint charts they show a 50% increase in unit volume YoY (which would be, but not entirely be, Watch 4 units, since that’s only the last mont’s worth of the quarter). So combine that with the 5X multiplier claim, none of it is logical. There’s nobody else out there selling Apple-like volumes magically of Wear OS devices that makes sense.

      Finally, I combine all that math data, with real-world ‘interest’ data looking at how those products have performed well on YT/sites/etc from a views standpoint (not just mine, but other videos), including search volume looking at tools like VidIQ, and it just doesn’t add up. For context, Google trends search volume for that time is literally 45:1 (“Apple Watch” to “Wear OS”). If I do “Samsung watch” vs Apple Watch, it’s a best case 5:1 Apple: Samsung, and a worst case 9:1.

      Like, there’s no way. :)