When the Suunto 9 Peak GPS multisport watch is released this month, it will be 37% thinner and 36% lighter than the previous version. The new Garmin Descent Mk2S has also completely refined its exterior appearance. But housings and overall size are the only things that are shrinking in the world of GPS watches, as overall sales continue to grow and companies like Suunto, Polar, and Garmin release new looks with increased functionality.

Across the outdoor industry as a whole, trail and outdoor use and equipment sales have increased during the pandemic. The GPS watch, often a multisport watch designed with smartwatch capability, has given watchmakers a huge increase in leads and sales. To both diversify the offerings in order to reach this wider audience and to generate interest, new watches have been put online to better combine new technologies and customer desires.

The Suunto 9 Peak is just one example. “We had heard for a long time that people liked our watches, liked the battery, the durability, but the watch was just too big, especially for women,” says Karolina Tiuraniemi, global marketing manager at Suunto. “We wanted to create something smaller and more inclusive that would suit all genres, but at the same time, it really had to be an amazing product for the longest and most extreme outdoor sports. We didn’t want to compromise with that.

The story is similar at Garmin, where the new Descent Mk2S, designed as a diver’s watch that doubles as a multisport watch, scaled down to fit smaller wrists and more consumers. “The pandemic in general has forced many people out who may never have been or been recently,” says Audra Ratfliff, head of outside marketing at Garmin. “They have created tremendous growth and a need for our outdoor products, especially for our watches.”

Tiuraniemi says the overall sports watch market has grown from 15.6 million units sold in 2019 to 16.9 million units in 2020 and 17.8 million units expected in 2021. For Suunto, they have seen a growth in use, followed through their application, in all areas. in 2020 compared to 2019, with a 34% increase in trekking, a 29% increase in cycling and mountain biking, a 28% jump in mountaineering and a 22% increase in hiking.

Matt Powell, NPD Group’s senior industry advisor for sports, says sales of GPS watches increased 64% for the rolling 12 months that ended in April.

Sander Werring, CEO of Polar, says the outdoors segment has seen steady growth for the company. And two spring 2021 launches – Ignite 2 and Vantage M2 – add multisport watches to the Polar lineup that provide market entry for consumers.

In addition to the Descent model, Garmin has launched the new Enduro watch for the “ultra-athlete” in need of what Ratliff calls “best-in-class range”. With a growing outdoor adventure market, Garmin is moving away from the Enduro design of the brand’s longtime Fenix ​​watch to create options for athletes who need a watch that can last for days. and days. To improve battery life, Garmin adopted solar charging, using the watch glass to invite charging from the sun. “We’ve always had excellent battery life, which is very important to us, but solar charging allows customers to go even further in their outdoor activities without having to worry about having to charge their device.” , says Ratliff.

Smaller watches, however, only tell part of the story. Markus Kemetter, product manager for Suunto’s 9 Peak, says that downsizing also increases functionality if you don’t limit capacity. The 9 Peak features an updated Nordic aesthetic for Finland-based Suunto as they had “side-by-side projects looking to get things in” while updating the style throughout. The 9 Peak has reduced the battery slightly, but otherwise has all the same features as before and added a few extras. “It’s so compressed that you couldn’t meet a need,” Kemetter explains of the inner workings. “It’s really optimized and a beauty in terms of mechanical design.”

Suunto 9 Peak offers up to 170 hours of GPS recording capacity, over 80 sport modes, wrist-based heart rate monitoring, detailed weather information, watch navigation, oxygen level measurements in blood and a 100% battery charge in one hour. As more and more people move outdoors, concepts like heat maps, navigation, and 3D maps become even more important. Suunto offers its on-watch heat maps for 20 different sports around the world so that “you can see where people are playing or where they are not playing”.

The GPS nature of watches speaks to the true outdoor adventurer, allowing routing and tracking for adventurers. But urban explorers have improvements in 9 Peak, with Kemetter saying the “snap to route” feature gives more accurate GPS tracking on city streets.

From GPS tracking and battery life to blood oxygen sensors to handle high altitude adventures, Kemetter says “consumers demand more precision.” This accuracy will also continue to be updated, with Suunto now transmitting updates directly to the watch.

The recent launch of the Polar Grit X has proven to be a key product for the brand, offering multiple sizes of a trail-focused watch with improved range with turn-by-turn navigation, the ability to view hills and upcoming elevations, weather information, and nutritional and fluid requirements during long sessions. The Grit X has up to 40 hours of battery life with full GPS and tracking and up to 100 hours with power saving options that always track route and heart rate.

The first company to offer a heart rate monitor, Polar continues to focus on training metrics with running and trail running for the Finland-based brand. Mountain biking and hiking are also important. Going forward, Werring says aesthetics will prove to be important when designing watches and features for “the most diverse adventurer trends.”

Watch makers all have their own apps to help users track trips, runs, and hikes, but also seamlessly connect to third-party networks, be it Strava, Training Peaks, or others. “We aim to bring together all the best possible services for our customers,” says Kemetter.

Adding new activities remains an essential element of growth. Kansas-based Garmin has seen an increase in marine use, as well as traditional outdoor activities, but has added surfing, cross-country skiing, and new mountain biking flow and flow measurements for more information on descents and flat areas.

The new Enduro tracks VO2 max, adjusting for track conditions, has real-time information on inclines and upcoming climb distance, provides recovery information and gives ‘grit’ scores. »Specific to mountain biking. The Descent Mk2S is dive ready with features loaded for all aspects of diving, but also has wellness tracking, smart features including pregnancy and sleep tracking, and includes sports apps. for everything from surfing to mountain biking.

“More users coming out now give us a bigger base and escalate us with even more feedback,” says Ratliff. “The more people that go out, whether or not they use a Garmin, the more opportunities we have.”

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