TomTom chief: Our heart is still in making fitness tech actionable

Troubled TomTom isn't jacking it in quite yet
licensced to TOMTOM april 17th 2013 and 2years
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There's a trend emerging in wearable tech and it's not something you can put on your body. As the pressure starts to tell on the makers of fitness devices in this most cut-throat of industries, attentions are increasingly turning to software.

Mio recently told us how it was focusing on its PAI software leaving wearables to "those who do it better" and Jawbone has famously ditched trackers and continues with its Jawbone Health platform. And now TomTom – faced with speculation about its future as a sports watch manufacturer – has come to market with an overhaul of its running watch software platform.

Read more: VO2 Max explained

"I think a lot of the experience is actually off-wrist," Walter Hermsen, VP Product Management told Wareable after showing off the new TomTom Sports features to us in London. "I think there's only so many information feedback, coaching, guidance you can give back to the reader from the wrist. How many alerts can you get per day, or during an activity?"

The software features an overhauled fitness points system to challenge the notion of 10,000 steps as your daily goal, and a reworking of VO2 Max scores that categorises your fitness level by age. You can read more about TomTom's app overhaul here.

TomTom chief: Our heart is still in making fitness tech actionable

"I think it's natural that a lot of the experience is being worked on off the wrist, and I don't think we're an exception there. I think there are 65 measurements you can do on a wearable, but how much info can you give someone on their wrist at one time and how much can you coach them?

"What we have done is invest in the mobile app, as that drives what people do, how they exercise better and understand what they need to do," he continued.

But does this means that we've taken devices as far as we can without delving into the realms of super stats? Blood oxygen levels, sleep apnea and other metrics have been touted by the likes of Fitbit in the launch of the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch.

"Maybe", said Hermsen. "There's always improvements that we can make. I think there's a lot that can be done with design and it's not just about the watch as a tool, but also personal branding via customisation.

"But I think the big steps we can make now is with the app and online experience analyzing data and representing it back to user in a useful way, not just another load of numbers among the numbers you already see."

The app experience is something that TomTom has struggled with, and it wasn't until an overhaul earlier this year that the experience could rival that of platforms like Garmin Connect, Polar Flow and Strava. And with its sports division supposedly in dire straits, who exactly is this update aimed at?

TomTom chief: Our heart is still in making fitness tech actionable

"We want address the less active part of the market. While 10% of our users have run a marathon, which is not insignificant, there's a large portion of our user base who just go out for a run. So we don't want to push heavy functionality to users who may be demotivated and make running even more complex for them," Hermsen said.

But can a fitness age score help TomTom shift more devices? It seems the company is keen to support those customers who have bought Spark, Runner and Adventurer products – and get them talking about their products. And leveraging the extra data should mean TomTom can start better understanding its users.

"There's a lot in the algorithms and the data that we're gathering, that we can use to figure out what can people do to get better, and what do people do who don't get better. And what's a good motivational message for someone who's fit or not fit," he said.

TomTom's focus has always been on making fitness features accessible – but with devices that cost up to for a sports watch, would it be better off building its brand among established amateur athletes, who have already shelled out for a premium device?

"Our user base and how active people are and how fast they are, it doesn't really change between price points. Someone who buys a watch is not a better runner than someone who buys a product," Hermsen said.

It's true that the Runner 3 starts at for the non-cardio, non-music model – but the problem with this argument is that non-HRM models won't see much benefit from these upgrades, and fitness age and fitness points rely on heart rate data.

TomTom chief: Our heart is still in making fitness tech actionable

But what about TomTom's future? Last month we reported that in an earnings call, TomTom CEO Harold Goddijn told investors that it was looking to the future of its sports division after some poor results. Is the company even going to keep making sports devices?

Naturally, Hermsen wouldn't be drawn on this, but insisted the company's heart was still in making complex fitness metrics accessible to everyone.

"I can't really say anything beyond what's been reported. We've been working for 18 months on this project and our heart is really in it. We're really pushing significant functionality, and we want to take care of those who have bought our products."

But Garmin is cleaning up in the fitness market with immensely complex data – we asked Hermsen why TomTom didn't just pander to customers with as many metrics as possible.

"What you need as a brand is an identity and what we do is make complicated stuff acceptable. It's just not who we are to add complex data," Hermsen said.

"We're adding three new metrics to our watch that are actionable. That's what we want to do. So I think that's how we approach it, what's actionable. Not simple. Actionable."


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James Stables


James is the co-founder of Wareable, and he has been a technology journalist for 15 years.

He started his career at Future Publishing, James became the features editor of T3 Magazine and and was a regular contributor to TechRadar – before leaving Future Publishing to found Wareable in 2014.

James has been at the helm of Wareable since 2014 and has become one of the leading experts in wearable technologies globally. He has reviewed, tested, and covered pretty much every wearable on the market, and is passionate about the evolving industry, and wearables helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.

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