Opinion

TomTom is (probably) leaving the wearable space, but does anyone care?

By Lee Bell 11 October 2017
TomTom's fitness trackers are soon to be no more
Summary

Who's left to take the crown?

There are some pretty strong rumours flying around that TomTom will soon make a swift exit from wearables.

Although no-one has confirmed the news yet, it doesn’t take an industry analyst to make that assumption.

As pointed out by Wareable last week, TomTom’s recent financial results saw “disappointing” sales from its Sports business, stating that “the wearables market has fallen short of expectations”.

This, combined with an overall 20% drop in consumer revenue, has forced the company to refocus its efforts with plans to “review strategic options” for the firm’s flailing Sports arm.

“We need to look at it,” said CEO Harold Goddijn. “We can’t carry on as we are going at the moment.”

A sinking ship

If you still need persuading that the rumours are true, there’s also the fact that several key executives have left the company recently, too, including Patrick Stal who was VP of marketing for TomTom Sports and Gabriella Costa Grillo who was global product marketing manager for wearables.

Then there’s the fact that the Adventurer and Touch devices, announced last year, never made their way to the US – a sure fire indicator of a major shortage in demand.

Basically, all signs are pointing at the eventual demise of TomTom’s wearables.

I've used a TomTom wearable to complete many an endurance event.

Strong, but not innovative enough

Despite the numbers showing that people are just not interested in TomTom’s smartwatches, my experience with TomTom’s wearables was always decent.

I used the Spark 2 and then the Spark 3 for well over two years, albeit on and off, and liked how long they lasted before needing charging again.

And because they had inbuilt GPS, heart-rate monitoring and timing tools all in one tracker without looking too fancy, I was always more than happy to throw any sporting extremities at them.

Particularly ideal for endurance events like Tough Mudder, for instance, they never let me down tracking every sprint, stroll and step as well as letting you see the total time, distance and the calories burned no matter how deep you’re submerged in mud or water.

They were basic, yes, with a mono colour display, but they did the trick.

Where TomTom got lost

I’ll be a little sad to see them go, but saying that, the Spark device that I relied on so heavily didn’t really see much innovation between generations. The Spark 2 and Spark 3, for instance, are almost identical. And they were kind of ugly.

Perhaps this is why people lost interest, investing in an Apple Watch instead.

Or maybe it’s because TomTom could never shake the opinion of a majority of people who still associate the firm with boring in-car GPS devices

At least fans of the company’s fitness trackers can seek solace in the high probability that, despite its inescapable departure from the wearable space, TomTom will continue support of its products for those who want to continue using them.

For some time, anyway.

Fitbit has a better idea of how to target the wearable market, I feel.

What now?

So what does this mean for the wearable space? Will the industry suffer as a result of TomTom’s inevitable demise?

Definitely not.

There was no real demand for the firm’s products for a single reason: it simply wasn’t strong enough in the competitive wearable market, which is currently thriving.

More than ever, the war to be the ‘iPhone of wearables’ is narrowing.

There’s Android Wear, yes, Google’s platform used by various smartphone firms as an extension of handsets from the likes of Samsung, LG, Motorola, etc.

Then you have Fitbit, which is probably one of the only manufacturers really trying to innovate in this space and to fend off competition from Apple Watch – which apparently has overtaken Rolex to become the world’s most popular piece of wrist wear.

Fitbit has the right idea.

Fighting Fit

People want wearables that aren’t just a workout buddy, but a companion, an extension of the smartphone, and an enabler for even more.

Fitbit has recognised this and upgraded its latest offering, the Ionic, with some nifty lifestyle features, such as Fitbit Pay (Apple Pay but with less compatibility) as well as a design that doesn’t make your friends feel embarrassed to be seen with you if you wear it outside the gym.

This was something TomTom always failed to do, and is probably another reason why we’re preparing to bid a farewell to the company’s once-respected wearables.