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Through Garmin, A Glimpse into the Future of Wearables

Quantified Athlete technologies that augment traditional coach-athlete dynamics will also need to help athletes who are training without a coach. The situation asks a lot of the technology, especially at the interface. There are user interfaces that connect people to tech and programming interfaces that transfer data between machines. There is, simply put, a lot going on.

Paradox of Choice, And The Challenge of Product Design

The path to disruptive athlete training technologies is a balancing act. The reason is the "Paradox of Choice," from Barry Schwarz' 2004 book title, "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less." The paradox is a factor in human-computer interaction design. It comes into play when user interfaces risk having too few choices, to the point where users don't get sufficient customization, and also risk having too many choices, to the point where the work exceeds users' tolerance.

Users ultimately judge what's too many or too few choices in any interface. However, interface designers will tell you that all users are not created equal. Smarter users can take, and use, more choices, along with more information, in their interfaces. Garmin sport watch interfaces, especially once you move beyond entry-level product, are made for these smart users. And it makes a huge difference with what the company is able to do with products, and with collaborators.

Garmin tests sport watch buyers when they open the box. Users will see their expensive new chronograph and realize that it doesn't tell time. Getting a clock requires setup, a 30+ minute process where the Garmin Connect phone app downloads, installs and then pairs with the watch. The process sets up the user accounts that will manage your data, but device setup is just the gateway. The personalization process is a bet that Garmin, and other quantified athlete products like theirs, will find a balance that first-generation wearables have struggled to achieve.

Both of the Garmin device management apps, Connect and Express, take users to the company's Connect IQ Store. Connect IQ is the name for Garmin's developer network, programmers who extend Garmin sport watches (and some other products) with apps, widgets and data fields that augment a watch's functionality. The Store, not unlike the iPhone App Store, makes it easy to find these 3rd party services and even more options.

Why this matters: Positioning complex athletic electronics in the market is a direct result of the interface choices made by its manufacturer. It's true for a single manufacturers product offerings. And it's true for competing brands, as it's how they differentiate. Products and brands that offload interface decisions to users via customization are betting that those customers prefer having options, instead of turnkey solutions.

Designing for A Market Segment

Trying to design for "everyone" is a classic mistake in product development. For Garmin, it has found a "just-right" Goldilocks zone for its performance sport watches. These watches are more mass-market than the specialty electronics that Garmin sells to its pro-sumer Aviation and Marine customers. The watches are, however, more sophisticated (and less mass-market) than consumer smart/sport watch offerings by Apple, Samsung and Fitbit.

This market positioning doesn't just work for Garmin, it also works for the Garmin partners on the Connect IQ development platform. They get to:

Here Are Some of the Notable 3rd Parties Building on Connect IQ Platform:

The Performance Measurement Market is Still Immature

The markets for performance measurement technology, for both individuals and teams, is immature, and the uncertainty is to be expected. It makes sense for companies, whether it's startups or established players like Garmin, to prioritize the overall industry's growth rather than guess at more specific company plans or targets. The pipeline for new early-stage technologies is promising and if there are industry-wide pathways for new products and services, the rising tide should raise the prospects for all involved.

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