The Age of GPS
Consumer GPS was just in its infancy when Gary Burrell and Min Kao first launched their company, ProNav in 1989, from Lenexa, Kansas. The pair of electrical engineers set out to build marine and aviation navigation systems that would depend on new global positioning technology. While the U.S. military had been working with satellite systems for more than a decade, until the networks opened up for consumer interface, no one really knew the scope of possibilities for non-military, navigational applications. Burrell and Kao were about to find out.
With the amalgamation of their first names, Gar and Min, a name change was in store for the company and Garmin successfully introduced its newly developed, panel-mounted GPS 100 at the 1990 Marine Technology Exposition in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, the Army outfitted U.S. soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq with Garmin’s “eTrex” handheld GPS units.
Innovation, Expansion and Growth
Like other companies, Garmin saw the potential for consumer use and GPS technology. Through the years, the company acquired or partnered with other tech-based entities such as, AirCell for flight navigation, Dynastream for personal monitoring technology, and Digital Cyclone, provider of mobile weather solutions. This further cemented Garmin’s position in the GPS consumer marketplace. By the year 2000, 50 different models were in production, with 3 million devices sold, under 35 patents held by the company. Later that same year, with over 1200 employees in three different countries, Garmin began trading on the NASDAQ.
Sports and Fitness—A New Frontier
The company long known for its GPS devices, with applications for auto, air, marine and outdoor recreation spread its wings again with the development of wearable technology. Now the company could compete with the likes of Apple and Fitbit for sophisticated tracking designs with active users in mind.
Products like Garmin’s Vivosmart 3, designed with high intensity activity in mind sport slim silicone straps in one of three colors (black, blue and purple) for 24/7 monitoring and comfort. The unit optimizes several features like VO2 max, fitness age and strength training, and personal rep counter along with “Elevate” its continuous wrist-based heart monitoring, making this model perfect for the gym or fitness class. Vivosmart 3 tracks steps, floors, calories, physical intensity and sleep, and actually tells you when it’s time to relax, walking you through timed breathing exercises. The unit is also waterproof with a relatively long battery life (5-6 days) compared to many trackers.
Through the Garmin Connect App, users can analyze detailed data and set fitness goals and workout routines. Excellent training metrics coupled with heart rate and sleep monitoring capabilities make Vivosmart 3 a good choice for individuals trying to get in shape or those new to weight training and fitness. What this model lacks however is GPS, which could make it a bit less attractive for runners and cyclists with needs for speed and distance information.
For The Road
Other models like the slim, lightweight, Forerunner 35 monitor your heart using wrist-based technology and Garmin’s proprietary optical sensory, “Elevate”, while GPS tracks distance, pace and intervals for runs. Individual route memory displays where you’ve been while cycling, walking, or running and users access Garmin Connect to share progress, join challenges, and get valuable feedback from others in the online fitness community as well.
Garmin Move IQ let’s you change activity without switching out devices and adapts to your present movement capturing data like, cadence, and pace for example when changing from a walk to a run. The unit let’s the wearer set up alerts based on heart rate and distance and even notices periods of inactivity, offering vibration alerts when it’s time to get moving again. If there’s a downside to the Forerunner 35, some might find the sports watch a bit plain and square looking from an aesthetics point of view.
For some, fitness is not about running or cycling, but about sports, and lots of them. For those individuals who need versatility and more than traditional fitness trackers have to offer, the Garmin Vivoactive may be the right fit. As the name implies, Vivoactive is for active users of many disciplines. Outfitted with GPS, and a whole host of tracking features for the sports-minded, the unit is the company’s first innovation in a smartwatch. From a tracking standpoint, Vivoactive is all about the sports, including features tailored to cycling, walking, running, and swimming. Golf tracking, usually dedicated to its own Garmin model is even included in the unit.
While you walk—while asleep, the device monitors activity. Paired with the user’s smartphone, the Vivoactive sends a plethora of notifications to the wrist including calls, texts, and tweets as well. The unit, waterproof up to 50 meters is also just as accurate in the pool as it is on the road. Advanced features for some runners, like vertical oscillation and VO2 max are appealing, as cadence is figured into the package. For more serious runners and bikers however, GPS smart recording only works for 4-7 second intervals, when 1-second intervals might be desired.
Like other Garmin devices, the Vivoactive syncs perfectly with Garmin Connect, the company app that lets individuals view activity and settings. The online portal also allows users to map out routes, download training plans and create training groups to help wearers track, train and succeed.
From an organization that found its way into the wearables market through navigation systems and global positioning technology, Garmin rates among the top leaders in the industry.