"We are sometimes ahead of ourselves," rues Sander Werring, Polar's CEO.
Polar has just celebrated its 45th birthday, and released the Polar Pacer and Pacer Pro sports watches. The company has been a pioneer of wearable technologies, even if many of the companies that followed its lead are now bigger players.
Polar launched the AW200 activity tracking watch (see below) in 2007. The step tracking and calorie counting wearable was on the scene before Fitbit's first wrist-worn tracker in 2013, and even ahead of the clip-on Fitbit Classic in 2009.
"We brought [the AW200] at a time when the market wasn't ready for it," said Werring. "Being first and innovation is at our core, but sometimes it's also what you do with it. We want to be the first now, but we want to be the best."
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Incredibly, Polar also launched the world's first wireless heart rate monitor in 1977, and according to the company, the EKG-based heart rate monitor chest strap tech, such as the Polar H10, is still the gold standard of consumer heart rate measurement.
And the company was also ahead of the curve with the Polar M600 Wear OS smartwatch back in 2016, and was one of the first sports companies to embrace Google's smartwatch operating system.
Polar launched the AW200 activity tracking watch two years before Fitbit launched its first activity tracker
However, it wasn't so quick to embrace optical heart rate sensors, with the Polar A360 fitness tracker only launching in late 2015 – and didn't make it to sports watches until the following year.
According to Werring "There was a lot for us to lose if we did it wrongly."
Werring also believes that heart rate trackin from the wrist can get better, with better accuracy and more training and analysis-based features.
"We see proof of the improvement of optical heart rate accuracy," he said. "We quickly identified that where the blood flow and the muscle gets bigger, the accuracy goes up. We were able to get chest-based heart rate and the optical measured hardware very close to each other.
"There's so much more we can derive from heart rate and this is the place where want to focus and be the best in the field.
Werring believes that Polar can tap into the body's autonomous nervous system via heart rate tracking, which can yield even bigger impacts.
"We've already got into the field of stress, sleep, and depth of sleep. So there are many metrics, we can pull out of heart rate, but they are the indirect metrics," he said.
And Werring believes that ECG, which has been a focus for Apple and Fitbit, could appear on future Polar wearables.
"ECG is one for sure. It's also something which could be in play for for a company like us. It's basically strong enough mature enough, but we do not display it at the moment as absolute value."
Where Polar was once a leader in the field of wearable analytics, it's now just one of many companies seeking to help people track their performance and vitals. That's has seen Apple become a market leader with the Apple Watch, and Polar rival Garmin break into the top 5 smartwatch manufacturers rankings.
Werring believes Polar's ability to offer guidance for users to reach their personal goals will help it remain a player in the wearables industry.
"Our solution is to have built-in guidance, which will survive any form factor we will see in the industry," he said. "The form may have changed, but the other things have remained."
Through that emphasis on guidance, software and its smart coaching abilities may undervalue the importance of wrapping up those smarts in great hardware.
We've seen that while the likes of Polar, Garmin and Suunto have succeeded by building strong tracking experiences, newcomers on the scene, particularly from the smartwatch space, have driven more stylish but less sporty devices.
This is something even Polar has started to do with its own watches like the Vantage M2, Ignite 2 and its latest Pacer and Pacer Pro watches.
It's recently brought in more of what Werring refers to as 'productivity features' to its watches, letting users view notifications and control their music – but it seems clear it doesn't want to detract from its number one aim.
The M600 was Polar's first-ever smartwatch, which launched in 2016 and ran on Google's Wear operating system
"Do we learn from the smartwatch industry? Sure. It's something we keep a close eye on," Werring said.
"The productivity features we have implemented in our product, this is to offer a life/sport balance, but we are very much about delivering your results. We're investing in building the best experience you can get from a wearable."
So could Polar dabble in that Wear OS space again, given the revamp Google's smartwatch platform is currently undergoing thanks to Samsung and Google's acquisition of Fitbit?
Werring doesn't seem to be all that convinced about some aspects of those smartwatches. "The readiness of the heart rate technology is not there yet," he said.
So in its 45th year as company as it continues to launch sports watches, heart rate monitor chest straps and now armbands and puts a focus on tracking, guidance and accuracy first, where does Polar feel it sits in in an industry that looks very different to the one it first entered?
"We basically sit in the same space as the early beginnings," said Werring.
"As a company, we have always considered the wearable to be be a vehicle to get our solution, which was built on heart rate, from our science to the customer. This is maybe a different way of looking at the wearable industry to other manufacturers that started in this place."
"We are about delivering results for the human being. We are about guidance, and we will find all kinds of ways to get this guidance to this customer. I think this is something that puts us in a unique position."
(Lead image credit: Juha Kytö)
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