Will the Apple Watch Ultra make Garmin the next Nokia?

I had a funny feeling watching yesterday’s announcement of the Apple Watch Ultra: I’ve seen this show before. It wasn’t until fans watching Garmin on Reddit and Twitter started mocking Apple that it shocked me…this is Nokia again.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m a longtime fan of Garmin watches. Most of my friends and family have bought the elegant Apple Watch. It’s a great smartwatch but I wanted a great outdoor adventure and fitness watch to pair with my iPhone instead. That’s why I’ve been wearing huge Garmin watches like Phoenix And the Apex String despite clumsy software interfaces. I’ve used it to obsessively track and measure my performance in a variety of activities that include windsurfing, running, golf, weight training, and mountain biking.

Steve Jobs referred to the market leaders at the launch of the iPhone in 2007.

When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, it was met with sarcasm at Nokia and its fans still cling to Symbian OS, its tiny keyboards, and resistive touchscreens made of plastic. Nokia devices like the N95 were superior On the iPhone on spec sheets, but not in terms of usability. Apple’s slow approach to adding new features year after year has finally allowed the company to catch up on key specs offered by Nokia, BlackBerry, Motorola and Palm as each company bleeds market share and revenue. The situation only accelerated with the maturity of Google’s Android OS which surpassed Symbian by 2011. The Nokia phones division was sold to Microsoft in 2014 and then emptied for parts in 2016.

Garmin has an amazing selection of watches that sell at every price point, to $1,500 and up.

This was the scenario I had in mind where the Apple Watch Ultra was revealed to be priced well below the $1,000 mark many had expected, and just a month after Samsung announced the $449.99 Galaxy Watch 5 Pro Running Google’s much-improved Wear OS 3. (and ironically, Wear OS is imbued with Tizen DNA Which evolved from Nokia Maemo and Migo operating systems.)

Apple already dominates the smartwatch market for devices that cost less than $500. Garmin dominates the higher segment of that with premium outdoor watches that range in price from $699 to over $1,500. The high average selling price is the reason for this It ranks third in terms of revenue Although it ranks fifth in terms of device shipments, according to Counterpoint Research. This is the opposite of the iPhone which dominates the premium end of the smartphone market. Apple is clearly hungry for a bigger slice of the premium smartwatch pie with more profitable profit margins.

Apple tried to sell expensive watches before with terribly misleading View Edition Chain tried to use precious materials to inflate the price. This time it sells more valuable features and functionality to a new audience of hardcore athletes. Pricing the first generation Ultra at $799, Apple has a big ceiling on launching new Ultra versions in the coming years that vary in features and capabilities. I’d pay more easily just to get the new Apple Emergency SOS satellite messages on my wrist plus cellular data So I can leave my phone (or Garmin InReach) in the back when running on remote trails or windsurfing off the coast of Western Sahara. Garmin sells, for example, a file Amazing collection of watches At each potential price point they sometimes differ slightly in capabilities.

High-end Garmin watches like the Epix 2 have OLED screens, Multi-frequency GPS and touch screens with built-in topographic maps that include trail names and even ski slopes.
Photo by Thomas Rieker/The Verge

Of course, the Apple Watch Ultra lacks a specs comparison with similarly priced devices sold by Garmin, Coros, and others. The battery is the most obvious example: 36, or even 60 hours possible with a future low-power update, is poor in a class where batteries are measured in weeks. Out of the box, it also lacks things like built-in topographic maps needed for trails, or support for Bluetooth energy meters and cadence sensors used by cyclists. Apple’s sports features and analytics also pale in comparison to the depth and variety that the competition offers.

But Apple has an excellent app ecosystem compared to making up for some of its inequities, and it really does offer the best smartwatch for iPhone owners interested in casual fitness and health. And they now offer those same features—plus better microphones, a louder speaker, and sirens—for the serious outdoor athlete, some of whom will no doubt be impressed by the Ultra’s appeal as a multisports watch that sounds good enough (with eSim for cellular data!) Also a great smartwatch with a very smooth interface. We’ll have to wait for the reviews to see how good (or bad) they really are.

I can already say this though: Garmin’s biggest weakness is usability. Their high-end watches have so many features and capabilities that complex software that, at times, looks like running a scientific calculator. Apple excels in user interfaces, while Garmin does not, just like Nokia which struggled in vain to adapt Symbian in response to iPhone and Android devices. With enough time, Apple Watches will catch up with the specifications and features of the flagship Garmin watches.

However, in the short term, the extra attention that Apple is bringing to the rugged outdoor smartwatch space could benefit Garmin — its stock rose more than three percent yesterday. But if Nokia has taught us one thing, it’s this: once Apple chooses to enter your house (and Google arranges its home), you better fight like hell or prepare to move on. Let’s see how Garmin chooses to respond.

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