NEWS: The Garmin Debacle

Garmin’s wonderful range of GPS products (recently expanded with the impressive 310CX and 410TX of which I’ll talk later) lost a lot of their inherent value the other day when Motionbased closed down and gave way to Garmin’s new offering “Garmin Connect”.

Motionbased has long been the best tool available for uploading your runs and analysing the details (something Garmin must have known early as they work in tandem with them despite having their own offering “TrainingCentre”). Sure the website has looked dated for a long time but in terms of providing data it was as splendid resource featuring the “MB Gravity” functionality which allowed you to correct the imprecise elevation readings provided by the Garmin software itself.

And this is where Garmin Connect lets us down and leaves us with a much inferior product in the absence of Motionbased. Picture this: You’ve got a nice old car; it drives well and has got a great assortment of mod-cons once you get to know it. Then the government tells you that your car has to be retired, but don’t despair: They’re giving you a shiny new one!

As you sit yourself down into the comfortable leather sits of the shiny blue-metallic ride the government has given you, you are impressed at first. But the sheen quickly wears off as you notice that not only can the car not perform to the same level as your old one, its missing half the mod-cons you were used to (where’s the air-conditioning!) and it gobbles down petrol like a post-recession SUV. You then later have a look at the engine and the rest of the car and notice there’s bits and pieces missing everywhere. “Don’t despair”, the garminent answers, “we’ll be shipping those parts on as they become available.”

Well, Garmin Connect is that shiny blue car, and we are the frustrated users asking ourselves: “Why couldn’t we keep our old car until you’d finished the new one?” It smells of the typical need of upper echelon businessmen needing to hit deadlines simply for the sake of it (which were probably unrealistic to begin with as is the norm in the IT-business) and to proudly boast to board managers far removed from their product that “Garmin Connect has gone live”. The consumer, of course, is the one who suffers.

It’s sad to see a company providing as solid a product as Garmin make such inane business decisions and waste the precious capital of goodwill that sustains every multinational (except those who have a virtual monopoly and can get by paying only lip-service to such trifles). We can only wait and hope that Garmin either sees sense and reinstates Motionbased or put some serious resources behind getting Garmin Connect working at a level anywhere near where it should be. Currently it may look slightly more modern than Motionbased but it’s both slower and packs vastly inferior functionality.

The attempt to build in a form of training tracker by tallying your totals for weeks are also half-cooked as they are no use without the ability to customise your training periods and manually add workouts (that you may not have had in your watch). And even worse, there’s a multitude of training planners out there who do a better job, so if you wish to go down this road, they should invest in it fully and not tag it on as a relatively useless add-on when there is still essential features missing. Prioritisation anyone? (“don’t polish the chrome until you’ve built the mast and sails!”)

The Solution

For a hill runner the lack of the MB Gravity feature is particularly crippling because it makes all data for hill runs virtually useless. I can’t wait for Garmin to sort out Garmin Connect so have migrated to the very nice software suite called SportsTracks. (Get it here)

It looks limited at first but once you get into the interface you’ll realise it has even more functionalities to offer than Motionbased and a more modern look. The software also loads on your desk and does not run through the internet which provides both practical and performance advantages for most users.

On the hardware side things are looking up for Garmin and I hope to purchase a ForeRunner 310CX once it has had time to drop a bit in price over the next 6 months. It looks like a return to form and the solid reliable interface of the 305. Having tested the 405 and being frustrated by the haphazard interface I feared that I needed to buy up the remaining stock of 305 to keep myself supplied in case the 405 would be the development model for the future.


Clark said…
I understand your disappointment of not having MB Gravity at Garmin Connect. We are still working through some of the elevation issues at Garmin Connect which does provide elevation corrections -- just not the same as MB Gravity. In fact, it works better than MB Gravity in many cases -- especially for cyclists.

That said, we realize that the algorithm needs to be improved for running activities -- especially in flat and hilly terrain. We are addressing that with our October release which will use a hybrid version of MB Gravity for certain devices -- not all devices. It's actually more complicated than you think.

Why do I know? I implemented MB Gravity at MotionBased and work on the elevation issues at Garmin Connect.

So, you are wrong in your assertion that the Garmin Connect team is not connected with the application or the customer. We use the product as much as our most active customers. We live and breathe this stuff.

Your impression that Garmin Connect is being rushed is also wrong. It may not have all of the features of MotionBased right now, but it also has a LOT more than MotionBased every had or ever could based on the architecture -- support for more browsers, operating systems, 14 languages (soon to be 22) and a API which will be released to the public in early 2010. Reports is vastly superior, and we're about to launch a Calendar view of activities and Manual Entry of activities not recorded by a device.

We acknowledge the performance issues of Garmin Connect and are working extremely hard to fix them. It's our number one priority. What is the primary reason for the performance issues??? Traffic and uploads to the site. Garmin Connect sees quadruple the traffic and uploads that MotionBased ever had. It is vastly more popular -- despite what you see as the short comings.

As we add a few more features from MotionBased and get a handle on the traffic, I suspect the most hard core MotionBased customers will realize that Garmin Connect is in fact a worthy upgrade and a top notch web application for tracking workouts.
Renny said…
Hi Clark,

Thanks for taking the time to respond to the post. If the tone was a bit antagonistic it was partly because I wanted to bring attention to this issue.

Your points are well taken and I hope you are correct that we will eventually come to appreciate GC as a superior upgrade.

I am also glad to hear everyone at Garmin use the product as much as your customers (I do hope you know just how much that is though!) something I can say from first-hand experience often is missing in many multinationals (I work for a major IT company myself). As an anecdote, your products are certainly a lot more interesting than what most sell.

For many of us, especially hill runners and similar athletes for whom the elevation readings are critical, the big question remains, though: Why could Motionbased not have remained operational until MB Gravity is fixed?

As many runners, I cannot afford having a 3 month gap in my training log and am thus forced to migrate to SportsTracks (I have read that fixes will be retroactive but data from Training Logs need to applied live and three months is a quarter of a sesion). While I'm ready to be won over once the Garmin Connect is fully finished, I will have to remain with SportsTracks until it is, and then I will have to evaluate if its better than SportsTracks (which as I've discovered offers more functionality than Motionbased did).

Whether the site is popular or not is irrelevant to me as a private consumer (such measurements are only relevant to corporate boardrooms). The majority of pop music does nothing for me, yet the majority of people enjoy it, this doesn't mean I suddenly like pop.

Having the exact timelines are useful, however, should ForeRunner be brought in under the new smoothing algorithm in October, I know I can have a second look at GC at that stage. Until then, I'm afraid the product does not provide me any value.

In the meantime I will follow the developments with interest and be assured Garmin Connect will receive a fair review here once its feature are completed.