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Garmin's Latest Product Looks Just Like Google Glass

By Sam Mattera - Feb 22, 2016 at 7:04PM

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The Varia Vision is a head-mounted wearable for serious cyclists.


Garmin Varia Vision. Source: Garmin

GPS giant Garmin (GRMN -0.54%) continues to shift its focus away from personal navigators. The company's latest product is a head-mounted wearable aimed at athletes.

Resembling Alphabet's (GOOG 0.19%) (GOOGL 0.33%) ill-fated Google Glass, the Varia Vision offers hardcore cyclists access to a stream of useful information. It remains just one product among dozens in Garmin's fitness category, but it underscores the company's shifting focus and its increasing emphasis on dedicated fitness wearables.

For cyclists only
The Varia Vision is a small, lightweight display that attaches to a pair of sunglasses. It syncs with Garmin's other smart cycling devices to give riders useful, real-time information. With the Varia Vision, riders can view their heart rate, speed, and distance while keeping their eyes on the road. They can receive notifications about incoming calls and texts on their smartphone, and be alerted when a vehicle is approaching them from behind. Unsurprisingly, they can also take advantage of Garmin's GPS technology and view navigation prompts.

Retailing for about $400, the Varia Vision isn't cheap, and it requires one of Garmin's Edge bicycle trackers to function (another $500 or so). To take advantage of the rear radar features, another device is required, bringing the total cost of the system to over $1,000. And obviously, the Varia Vision is largely worthless if you don't spend dozens of hours riding your bicycle on a regular basis.

In other words, it's a niche product with a specific purpose, aimed at an audience of enthusiasts who won't wear it most of the time.


Google Glass. Souce: Google.

Google Glass was a similar device, but aimed at an entirely different market and attempting to do something quite different. Like the Varia Vision, Google's head-mounted wearable would've given its users access to a wealth of information at a glance. But unlike the Varia Vision, Google positioned Glass as mainstream product, intended for everyone to wear throughout the day almost continuously.

Google Glass is capable of far more than Varia Vision, but paradoxically, its mainstream aspirations proved to be its undoing. Even before it found anything remotely resembling mainstream success, Google Glass attracted widespread paranoia. A variety of venues, including casinos, movie theaters, and bars, banned it outright. Early last year, Google discontinued sales of the product to consumers.

The importance of Garmin's fitness category continues to grow
The Varia Vision is included in Garmin's fitness segment, which generated about one third of the company's revenue last quarter. It was Garmin's fastest-growing segment, with sales rising 14% on an annual basis. Garmin was the fourth-largest seller of wearables in the second quarter last year according to IDC, shipping about 700,000 devices. Many were inexpensive activity trackers, but Garmin also offers a number of high-end products aimed at particular groups of athletes. In addition to its Varia Vision for cyclists, Garmin sells dedicated fitness watches for serious runners, hikers, and swimmers. They don't offer access to nearly as much functionality as a true smartwatch, but far surpass them when it comes to fitness, with the ability to track a wide range of workouts, built-in GPS, and a cornucopia of sensors.

With its core GPS business facing inexorable decline, Garmin's fitness devices are more important to the company than ever before. GPS revenue fell 21% on an annual basis last quarter, and accounted for just 34% of Garmin's total revenue (compared to 42% in the same quarter last year). Garmin's fitness wearables face competition from general purpose devices, but with their dedicated focus, they could retain a market of core buyers. It's unlikely that the Varia Vision will sell in large numbers, but it serves as a symbol of the company's larger wearables strategy. 

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares) and Alphabet (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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