It was back in 2011 that TomTom teamed up with Nike to build its first sports watch. Six years later and the sat-nav expert has launched several iterations of its own GPS running watch, which has evolved into an affordable, feature-packed alternative to Garmin and Polar's run tracking companions.
Last year saw the company unveil a watch for outdoor adventurers alongside the Fitbit-rivalling TomTom Touch, a fitness tracker that was the first to let you measure body composition from the wrist.
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TomTom is aiming to build on this momentum, swelling its hardware ranks and addressing what's arguably our biggest criticism of the TomTom Sports platform: the app. Along with a much-needed makeover, it's given users more reasons to spend more time in the smartphone app and hopefully opt against exporting tracking data to one of the third-party app alternatives. "This is something we have been working on for a while," TomTom co-founder Peter-Frans Pauwels told us when we caught up with him during CES earlier this month.
These insights are fuelled by delving deeper into tracking data to show you where you're making progress, and highlighting areas where you can improve. This is just the start of a more personal approach to analysing data, according to Pauwels, who says we can expect to see this filter into other aspects of its sports and fitness wearables.
"We already offer real-time coaching with our running watch and it's the kind of feature we will continue to offer to make it smarter and more sophisticated," he told us.
"The important thing here is to start personalising that coaching. It needs to happen in the back end with your data and by comparing it to others. We are doing a lot of that as we speak and that will become available over the coming year."
This looks likely to extend to training plans as well, something that its more established running watch rivals have excelled with. Polar recently introduced its own adaptive running programs, and don't be surprised if TomTom follows suit. "We've also just scratched the surface with personalised training plans," Pauwels told us. "It's something we are working on to integrate into the entire experience. That's definitely on our radar. I can't tell you when it's going to happen, but we are definitely working on it. People are asking for it and we listen."
Venturing into new territory
If TomTom's credentials as a serious wearable player were ever in doubt, the decision to build a fitness tracker and an outdoor watch suggested otherwise. The Adventurer could give Garmin's Fenix series or Suunto's rugged Spartan watches a run for their money. We're still putting the Adventurer through its paces, but Pauwels assures us that it's being well received.
"We are really happy with what we did with the Adventurer," he said. "We know you have these really expensive outdoor watches. I'm talking about the $500 ones. There's a very small amount of people that want these big watches. It's a fashion statement, but only for a small group of people.
"They tend to come with a lot of technical features that make sense to a professional mountain guy, but to the rest of us we don't care about them as much. We felt that creating a product at this price level would appeal to larger amount of people. We identified a gap in the market between those super sports watches and regular sports watches."
Filling that gap in the outdoor watch market is a very different challenge to the one TomTom faced when it decided to enter the more competitive world of fitness trackers for the first time. A world that's dominated by Fitbit, Garmin, Misfit and a host of other companies offering more affordable ways to count steps, log sleep and track exercise.
"It was very challenging to go into a market that was so busy', said Pauwels. "We had to try and differentiate ourselves from the competition, and I think what we did really well on that front was our industrial design. We went through many iterations until we got the right look.
"Bringing the body composition measurements was technologically challenging as well because it took as many attempts to get it right. Not because the technology is super new, but to do it on the wrist was the challenge."
Looking to the future
So what's next for TomTom? One thing that seems certain is that it's not going to budge from keeping its tech around your wrist. "I always think back to Google Glass and this idea of looking a bit like a cyborg," Pauwels explained.
"Wearable tech really has to fit into the norms of our culture. At least on the wrist you can make it look like a watch and behave like a watch. If we start doing it in other places it needs to be frictionless or something that you can't see. I think putting stuff in your ears all day for instance is going to be a challenge. Battery life alone is one issue there. I do however think there's an interesting opportunity with bringing the tech to clothes."
We can expect a much bigger software push, whether that's using the existing sensors to extract more meaningful data or bulking up its sports tracking powers. "At the moment we support twelve sports but we are not done yet," Pauwels said. "I keep telling the team I want mountain biking on there. That's one of the sports I'd love to get added."
While Pauwels wouldn't give anything away, it looks like new hardware could be on the horizon before the year's out as well. "When we release stuff, it's always before summer and after summer," he said. "I can tell you we will be making a couple of interesting new introductions, but that's as much as I can say right now." TomTom, you have our attention.
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