When I open up the Connect app, hit the More tab and scroll down to the Connect IQ Store, it's a constant reminder that in spite of Garmin's excellent sports tracking credentials, it's still got a thing or two to learn about finessing the software part of its wearable ecosystem.
Every time I download a watch face and get launched into a browser window, or I go through that clunky process of syncing an app to my running watch, it's telling of a company that for so many years directed its data and its users to a platform designed for a desktop computer or laptop. But it's playing catch up building something perfectly suited to smartphones.
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It's easy to forget that Garmin's answer to the App Store and Google Play only arrived on the scene just a few years ago, launching around the same time we saw the first Apple Watch and Google's first Android Wear smartwatch. Both Apple and Google had existing app stores well established for its phones and were no doubt in a better position to convince developers that they should start building apps for its wearables. You really couldn't say the same about Garmin. It decided to take a different approach encouraging devs to focus not just on apps, but widgets, data fields, and all of the kind of niche things that runners, cyclists, triathletes and other sports lovers could appreciate.
For a long time, I pretty much ignored the IQ store. I didn't feel the need to change up my watch face or throw some apps onto my watch. The introduction of wearables like the Vivoactive 3, Fenix 5 and high end watches like the Forerunner 935 has changed this. These IQ supporting watches feel like hardware that are better designed for apps, watch faces, widgets and data fields to live on them. Garmin's decision to take a more active role in bringing features like smart home control and building its own native apps is certainly making a difference here too.
The last few months I've started playing around with the watch faces more. I downloaded Strava Routes recently to follow a route that one of my running pals had created inside the app. It was of a little bit of a faff to get it working, but it worked in the end. I find myself exploring more the IQ store a lot more for better ways to present my real-time data and find out if there are any other apps I really need in my life.
Garmin's big wearable push in recent years is there for all to see. More recently, it's tried to offer better alternatives to the leaders in the pack, Apple and Fitbit. It's having a lot of success doing that as well (at least in our opinion), whether that's down to its improving fitness tracking features or playing catch up and offering mobile payments finally through Garmin Pay. Maybe we'll even see Garmin finally bring offline music playback to its watches as well in the not too distant future.
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I have no doubts about Garmin's ability to build cutting-edge hardware, but it's time it really started getting its software in better shape. There's signs already that this is happening, with its Connect app recently undergoing a revamp. What I really want to see in 2018 is some love being given to the app store. I don't ever expect it to be on par with Apple and Google in terms of choice, but I do think it can become a more inviting place, one that makes it more seamless to get those add-ons onto your watch.
Crucially, it should do a much better job of showcasing all the great stuff that devs are creating and maybe it might just convince others to build for IQ and that can only be a good thing for Garmin and everyone out there that owns its wearables or is thinking about getting their hands on one.