Skip to main content

Will the Apple Watch Ultra make Garmin the next Nokia?

Will the Apple Watch Ultra make Garmin the next Nokia?

/

Apple begins slow-rolling its way onto Garmin’s lucrative turf

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Apple Watch Ultra.
Apple Watch Ultra.
Image: Apple

I had a funny feeling watching yesterday’s announcement of the Apple Watch Ultra: I’ve seen this show before. It wasn’t until Garmin watch fans on Reddit and Twitter started lampooning Apple that it hit me… this is Nokia all over again.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m a longtime Garmin watch fan. Most of my friends and family have all purchased svelte Apple Watches. It’s a great smartwatch but I wanted a great outdoor adventure and fitness watch to pair with my iPhone instead. That’s why I’ve been wearing big hulking Garmin watches like the Fenix and Epix series despite their clumsy software interfaces. I’ve used them to obsessively track and measure my performance in a variety of activities that include kitesurfing, trail running, golfing, weight training, and mountain biking.

Steve Jobs pointing out the market leaders at the launch of the iPhone in 2007.
Steve Jobs pointing out the market leaders at the launch of the iPhone in 2007.

When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, it was met with derision by Nokia and its fans still clinging to their overwrought Symbian OS, tiny keyboards, and resistive touchscreens made of plastic. Nokia devices like the N95 were superior to the iPhone on spec sheets, but not in terms of usability. Apple’s slow-roll approach to adding new features year after year eventually allowed the company to catch up to flagship specs offered by Nokia, BlackBerry, Motorola, and Palm as each company hemorrhaged market share and revenue. The situation only accelerated with the maturation of Google’s Android OS which overtook Symbian by 2011. Nokia’s phone division was sold to Microsoft in 2014 and then unloaded for parts in 2016.

Garmin has a dizzying array of watches sold at every price point, to $1,500 and beyond.
Garmin has a dizzying array of watches sold at every price point, to $1,500 and beyond.

It was this scenario I was thinking about as the Apple Watch Ultra was unveiled with price well below the $1,000 mark many expected, and just a month after Samsung announced the $449.99 Galaxy Watch 5 Pro running Google’s much improved Wear OS 3. (Ironically, Wear OS is infused with Tizen DNA which evolved from Nokia’s own Maemo and MeeGo OSes.)

Apple already dominates the smartwatch market for devices that cost less than $500. Garmin dominates the segment above that with premium outdoor watches priced from $699 to over $1,500. Its higher average selling price is the reason it ranks third in terms of revenue despite ranking fifth in terms of device shipments, according to Counterpoint Research. That’s the opposite of the iPhone which dominates the premium end of the smartphone market. Apple is clearly hungry for a bigger slice of the premium smartwatch pie with its more lucrative profit margins. 

Apple tried selling expensive watches before with the terribly misguided Watch Edition series that attempted to use precious materials to inflate the price. This time it’s selling more valuable features and functionality to a new audience of hardcore athletes. By pricing the first generation of the Ultra at $799, Apple has a lot of ceiling to roll out new Ultra editions in the years ahead that differ in features and capabilities. I’d readily pay more just to have Apple’s new emergency SOS satellite messaging on my wrist in addition to cellular data so that I can leave my phone (or Garmin InReach) behind when running remote trails or kitesurfing off the coast of the Western Sahara. Garmin, for example, sells a dizzying array of watches at every possible price point that sometimes differ only slightly in capabilities.

Garmin’s high-end watches like the Epix 2 have OLED displays, multi-frequency GPS, and touchscreens with built-in topographical maps that include trail names and even ski slopes.
Garmin’s high-end watches like the Epix 2 have OLED displays, multi-frequency GPS, and touchscreens with built-in topographical maps that include trail names and even ski slopes.
Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

Without a doubt, the Apple Watch Ultra comes up short on a spec comparison with similarly priced devices sold by Garmin, Coros, and others. The battery is the most glaring example: 36, or even 60 hours enabled by a future low-power update, is weak in a category where batteries are measured in weeks. Out of the box it also lacks things like built-in topographical maps needed for trails, or support for Bluetooth power meters and cadence sensors used by cyclists. Apple’s sport features and analytics also pale in comparison to the depth and variety offered by the competition. 

But Apple has an excellent app ecosystem by comparison to offset some inequalities, and it already makes the best smartwatch for iPhone owners interested in casual fitness and health. Now it brings those same features — plus better mics, louder speaker, and a siren — to serious outdoor athletes, some of whom will undoubtedly be swayed by the Ultra’s appeal as a seemingly good-enough multisport watch (with eSim for cellular data!) that’s also a great smartwatch with a silky-smooth interface. We’ll have to wait for the reviews to see how good (or bad) it really is, though.

Garmin’s biggest weak spot is usability

I can say this already though: Garmin’s biggest weak spot is usability. Its high-end watches have tons of features and capabilities that are obscured by complicated software that feels, at times, like operating a scientific calculator. Apple excels at user interfaces, Garmin doesn’t, just like Nokia which struggled in vain to adapt Symbian in response to the iPhone and Android. And given enough time, Apple’s watches will catch up to the specs and features available on Garmin’s flagship watches.

In the short term, however, the added attention Apple brings to the rugged outdoor smartwatch space could benefit Garmin — its stock was up over three percent yesterday. But if Nokia taught us anything, it’s this: once Apple chooses to enter your house (and Google gets its house in order) you’d better fight like hell or prepare to move on. Let’s see how Garmin chooses to respond.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Dimorphos didn’t even see it coming

R
Twitter
Richard LawlerTwo hours ago
A direct strike at 14,000 mph.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) scored a hit on the asteroid Dimorphos, but as Mary Beth Griggs explains, the real science work is just beginning.

Now planetary scientists will wait to see how the impact changed the asteroid’s orbit, and to download pictures from DART’s LICIACube satellite which had a front-row seat to the crash.


M
The Verge
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.


Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther WangSep 26
E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?


R
Youtube
Richard LawlerSep 26
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 26
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.


A
External Link
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.


J
James VincentSep 26
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.


Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
J
The Verge
James VincentSep 26
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.


E
External Link
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.


R
The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 26
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.