I am a competitive person and find running for pleasure boring. I need to measure my runs and hit specific goals to make my runs interesting. Without basic feedback on my pace, distance, and time my runs get shorter and less intense overtime. After switching to Adidas running sneakers my Nike+ iPod system became useless which is an unfortunate tight technology coupling that I would like to see go away. After some Amazon research, I splurged and bought the Garmin Forerunner 405 for its combination of slick looks, wireless sync, and GPS capabilities. Six weeks and fifteen plus runs later with my Garmin Forerunner 405 I am sorely disappointed. First let me explain the macro level issues with the product design and then I will delve into specific issues I found.
Build a Sensor, Not a Computer
The Garmin philosophy seems to be centered on building computers into devices. Garmin should take full advantage of peripheral and common devices like the iPhone or PC. Trying (they certainly deserve credit for effort) to perfect data setup and vast information consumption on a watch form factor is a fools game. The watch is a perfect sensor that can track time, rate, and location while the iPhone and/or PC is a perfect device to setup runs, track progress from run to run, and share run data with friends. Let each product do product what it is best at then marry the two to create a delightful experience. Here is how I see the system working:
Keep it Simple
Even for the most ardent runners and tri-athletes this watch does too much. Its as though somebody handed the engineers a list of features and said go build all of these. Why is this a bad thing? While running or stopping to stretch the Garmin Forerunner 405 will inexplicably change to a different mode, and reverting back to the basic mode is not intuitive. Other times the device will begin beeping – since I never set up any complex training goals trying to determine why it was beeping took hours. On a nice sunny day while enjoying the outdoors the last thing somebody wants is an annoying beeping sound. The focus needs to be on collecting distance, rate, and calories. Once brain dead obvious how to collect these then begin to gently expose additional features to the user.
The Issue List
Collecting a list of product issues and fixing them one-by-one is no way to do product design. With this approach the core issues are never discovered. Such is the case here, if you were to fix every issue on this list you would still be left with a mediocre product. With that said here are the specific issues I found using my Garmin Forerunner 405:
- Form factor: The watch head extends into the area usually reserved for the watchbands and this is a hard plastic not the soft and malleable plastic used for watchbands. This means that the watch does not hug your wrist, rather sits awkwardly and sometimes painfully on your wrist.
- Packaging: The product should have some battery juice when it comes out of the package. It’s a huge let down to un-package a cool new product and then wait an hour charging it before you can do anything.
- GPS: takes minutes rather then seconds to connect to a satellite, and sometimes it fell into a discovery state and never failed completely.
- Touch Wheel: Provides no visual feedback. Which means you don’t know whether you have successfully engaged the wheel. Furthermore, if one successfully engages the wheel it does not bounce back at you if you are moving through the modes too quickly.
- User Interface Item Selection. No clear way to select an item when a dialog is presented. For example, when trying to sync via Bluetooth one needs to select OK in order to accept the connection. It is unclear which button or button combination to hit in order to select OK.
- Battery: poor battery life is not unique to this device, but whereas a phone is a critical part of my productivity this is a nice-to-have product. Forcing users to recharge their watch constantly for a nice-to-have product means that users will lose interest quickly as the effort exceeds the value returned.
With much of the core technology in these devices commodity components (Bluetooth, GPS, accelerometers, etc.) there is an opportunity to develop an open (i.e. not tethered to Nike sneakers or Apple devices) simple and elegant watch that serves as a way to easily and reliably capture core metrics (rate, distance, and calories) and then sync this information to ones mobile phones and computer to view and share the data. Somebody will make a simple and compelling device that capture the essence of the above and in the process will make me a happy customer and themselves boatloads of money.