Garmin MotionBased Connect – Feared Lost at Sea

Taking on water, abandon ship

Last Monday I spent an hour on the phone with MotionBased co-founder and Garmin Connect Product Manager, Clark Weber. Given the tone of my last two MB-related posts, it was gracious of him to make what surely had the potential to be an uncomfortable call. He was candid about competing priorities and shed some light on what's likely to happen to both services in the coming months.

The Connect/MB Team has a staff of sixteen including ten developers and a QA engineer. Knowing the size and composition of the team helps put its productivity (or apparent lack thereof) in some kind of perspective.

Priority One: Improve and stabilize the performance of Garmin Connect. Connect is web-service based. The objective is to provide a platform with robust APIs for data sharing, re-publishing and mashups that are the signature of contemporary web apps. According to Clark this architecture has taken significantly longer to write than anticipated and at the moment Connect's performance is inferior to MotionBased.

Priority Two: Complete work to migrate legacy devices (like the Edge 305) to the Connect Platform. Originally scheduled for early in the year, delayed until May and delayed again until September, it appears the best we can hope for is October. In other words, it will slip again and Clark didn't sound particularly confident about October because priority one, Connect performance has a long way to go. Read through several of the threads on the Connect forum and that fact becomes abundantly clear. Examples "Garmin Connect Huge Disappointment" "GC, what a horrible application"

Priority Three: Support new Garmin GPS hardware. The beat goes on, and the team is expected to support the new hardware coming off the Garmin assembly line. Devices like the Forerunner 50 impacted the team's best laid plans early in the year.

So where do things go from here? Two immediate questions are on the table for the team. First, do they communicate the problems and pending slippage openly with customers? The abbreviated, passive mode of the past eighteen months will no longer cut it. Most of us do not check in regularly with the MotionBased forums, particularly since there's never anything new to report. No it's time for the Garmin team to step up, tell the whole story and take its lumps. It's that discipline that will keep the sense of urgency alive.

The second question is how does Garmin treat MotionBased subscribers as they wait for the long overdue cut over? Clark admitted the team was going to discuss that point last Tuesday. My recommendation... indefinitely extend MB subscriptions until they support all legacy devices. At some point Garmin has to take responsibility for a delay of nine months and pick up the tab. I can only speak for myself, but the subscription cost has nothing to do with my frustration.

Those of you optimistically waiting for Connect to acquire all the features of MotionBased, stand down. That's not going to happen until Connect Plus is released and that's likely a year away.

On some level I sympathize with Clark's situation. It is very difficult to release good software and hit what is always a moving target of priorities and opportunities. From my perspective I don't believe the team has sufficient resources to succeed. Garmin senior management had better recognize the pumps are working full speed and the ship is still taking on water.

Eighteen months ago I thought the MotionBased service was worth paying for, I can't say that anymore so reluctantly I'm abandoning ship. My enthusiasm for ride data has waned as my frustrations with the Garmin service has grown. In nautical terms, the ship is way off course, limping along on two damaged engines and listing badly. I hope for Clark's sake they make it back to port. Man overboard.

21 Responses to Garmin MotionBased Connect – Feared Lost at Sea

  1. Joe says:

    I’ve completely abandoned MB and track all my ride data through Ascent – if you’re on a Mac I can’t recommend it highly enough. Syncing my 305 is simplicity and there is a plethora of graphing available – it’s what MB should be for the price of a couple of month’s subscription. Well worth checking it out…

    (I’ve no affiliation with Ascent BTW).

  2. Thanks Joe

    I will revisit Ascent, I’ve heard good things about it. For the next few weeks though, I’m going to take a break from the numbers and just ride.

  3. Another vote for Ascent…

    Some good stuff over the last few weeks on this issue. I think though it does reflect wider issues around Garmin and customer support. I emailed them 2 weeks ago and nothing. I’ve given up.

    It seems that on the hardware side, things are going well. Something like the 705 is a complicated bit of kit and there WILL BE issues, but overall they do work well. You don’t need to go far around the internet to find unkind words about “support could be better”, “manuals make no sense” etc etc though.

    I agree, I think this must come down to resources across the board, and there must be a handful of individuals tearing their hair out trying to keep up. Some great products, but it’s more than just hardware…

  4. It’s really an unfortunate situation Simon. Garmin is just one more successful company that doesn’t know how to serve its customers or perhaps more cynically has calculated its not worth it. I’m not a conspiracy buff but I suspect there’s a happy bean counter somewhere behind the scenes in all this.

    I’d better take another look at Ascent. I’m also keen to see what comes of Quarq’s Qranium computer. Pity it’s going to be so expensive.

  5. Daniel Hobe says:

    I got so fed up with the ridiculously long load times for Connect and Motionbased that I’ve started to put together a really simple webapp that has most of the same features of Connect but is much much faster. (~1 second for the detail view of a ride). It only works with the exported tcx files from my 705 (at least that’s all I’ve tested) but it does everything I need.

    I’m interested in getting more feedback on the app, email me if you want to give it a spin.

  6. Rick says:

    Garmin’s invested sponsorship of Slipstream’s pro cycling team (and assumed global increase in cycling product sales – Edge705), seems like a massive time bomb about to explode. European performance cycling buyers can be much more picky than Americans. With Garmin’s current trajectory they’ll just miss the boat on capturing repeat buyers and loyalists. Not sure why their marketing people don’t convincingly communicate to the bean counters how important this software is. This company will only be as strong as it’s weakest link, and the software is it: All 3 TC, MB, and GC. If they can’t pull off the continuity, detail and functionality as well as the hardware, they should quit being in the software business…. and soon to avoid disappointed new customers. Who want’s to spend $$$ on a nice device just to see cr*p when they plug it in to their computer?

  7. Tex Murphy says:

    I bought my Edge 305 as my first gps device in February 2006. Based on discussion on the MotionBased Forums in 2006 I found SportTracks from ZoneFiveSoftware (ST) which I think is the best of the fitness tracking software anywhere available. Even 2 years ago it was way above either MotionBased or Garmin TraingCenter.
    ST currently supports the latest Garmin fitness devices (705/405) including direct uploads using the Garmin API.
    As a cyclist I can send workouts, keep a training schedule, dot race against myself and others, and even compute a power track for my activities.
    ST has a great plugin development community and active world-wide user community of runners, cyclists, swimmers, and kayakers.

    SportTracks is available as a free download from http://www.zonefivesoftware.com/SportTracks/

  8. Ryan Amirault says:

    Daniel, is there a way to check out the webapp you have created?

    Thanks,
    Ryan

  9. Rick,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I hoped that Garmin’s sponsorship of Slipstream was a signal that the company was about to get serious. After your comment, I stopped by the MB/Connect forum for the first time since I published the piece. I’m disappointed, but frankly not surprised there’s been no official communication on schedule.

    It’s a sad situation.

  10. You can give cycletracks a try here:
    http://cycletracks.appspot.com/

    Keep in mind that it’s really basic and you may run into problems. I’d still like to hear what people think.

  11. Alan Westwood says:

    I’ve tried all this software, and both MB and Connect (and Nokia Sports Tracker). In my view, ZoneFiveSoftware’s SportTracks is way ahead of the rest – and it can be used offline, so you have your own data always available and you don’t have to worry about the web site or you broadband connection going down.

  12. mcslain says:

    thanks for the article. it is good to have a clue about what is going on with garmin connect for once. i remember when motionbased was new and every second or third time i logged in there was a new feature. hasn’t been a new feature in well over a year, maybe around two years. i have already invested in a paid motionbased membership, but it looks like it might be time to jump ship regardless. i want to like garmin. i think my edge is a great gadget w a world of possibilities. i like the cycling team and cheered for them at the tour. but personally, they’ve done nothing for me other than buy motionbased and seemingly destroy it. i just can’t go on paying for that.

  13. You know it’s really sad when I read all these posts and think about how many people are feeling the same way about Garmin. They’ve truly squandered our enthusiasm and good will. They don’t understand, as Rick pointed out, that good software is essential.

    It’s not easy to turn product evangelists into critics but they’ve managed.

  14. Discouraged says:

    I have been to the Garmin developer forums lately and I’m afraid to say the software development division looks hopeless. Responses to developer questions were scarce to begin with – now the forums are infested with SPAM and nobody seems to care to clean it up or solve the problem. The Garmin Communicator Plugin API itself is so buggy to be almost useless. Recently I saw a post saying they would be focusing on Garmin Connect. It does not bode well for the future.

    I am not sure if this is just a general problem with Garmin support going down the toilet, or if the consumer software division is completely useless. I know this is new territory but the performance of this group is completely inexcusable. A team of ten engineers ??? This performance is so out of line with what I have experienced in the business world I’m at a loss for words.

    There is also a serious risk here…. as Garmin moves solely to a web-based system for tracking stored GPS/fitness data – will they have exclusive rights to use this data? Is there any assurance you can pull the data out and use it for your own reporting an analysis (with software apps such as SportTracks, et. al.)? Or is it “locked up” in the Garmin servers – subject to their data backup policies, privacy protection, and server uptime guarantees.

    My fear is even if their intentions are good – based on past performance, delays and their apparent secrecy – can you TRUST them to meet their committments?

    When I got my first Forerunner 201 I was blown away at the possibilities and thoroughly impressed. Maybe I’m jaded with the new gadgets that have come out since… maybe I’m just cynical… but it just seems like eons ago and a completely different company.

  15. Discouraged… you hit the nail on the head, it does seem like a completely different (or indifferent company). It just dawned on me that I never saw the Garmin booth at interbike. Had I stumbled on it I’d have made another attempt to communicate the magnitude of the problem.

  16. Mary says:

    “Garmin is just one more successful company that doesn’t know how to serve its customers or perhaps more cynically has calculated its not worth it. I’m not a conspiracy buff but I suspect there’s a happy bean counter somewhere behind the scenes in all this.”

    I have to agree with this comment. I’m amazed that this company doesn’t have some decent baseline of support for what are relatively expensive products. The support that they offer is what one might expect if they bought a $15 coffee grinder from Braun – waiting forever on the phone, non-existent web support, incoherent documentation. But Garmin is selling an amazing, technically complex and expensive product. And then just leaving their customers out in the wind when the product has problems.

    Has Garmin realized that they are creating a niche that some other company is going to eventually come in and fill? I would predict that if their service continues at this level, they won’t be around for the long term.

  17. Mary,

    I’m at a loss to explain why the situation is so bad and why, with so many owners expressing frustration they haven’t done anything about it. The fact this post continues to generate thoughtful, intelligent comments just reinforces this is a train wreck for Garmin.

    ::M

  18. Kieron says:

    I’d like to share a link to this post on the MotionBased forum (with your permission of course). Last night, still bitter after more than twelve months waiting for an acceptable level of performance from the MotionBased website, I responded to three or four posts from users facing the same issues.

    I was clear and direct in describing my frustrations and disappointment, but apparently my response was considered “too hostile” by Garmin’s moderators and I was told that my posts had been deleted and if I carried on posting like this I’d be banned from the forum. I must stress there was no bad language. Just a frustrated customer’s statement of the facts.

    It’s a real shame that Garmin has become too frightened of its own users to allow them to comment. Unfortunately, they’re missing the point. It took me less than 10 seconds to find this very enlightening thread – over which they have no editorial control. As Joe Louis rightly pointed out: you can run, but you can’t hide.

    My mind is now made up. I’m jumping ship too. I’ve given this company the benefit of the doubt for far too long.

    But before I’m banned, I think it would be useful (and non-threatening) to see if a link to this thread would remain on Garmin’s forums for any length of time.

  19. Sure Kieron go ahead and post to the forum. Garmin has developed this “bunker” mentality and they just don’t want to hear what customers really think. All of this is going to come back to haunt them.

  20. Kieron says:

    Hi Velodramatic,

    Thanks for your permission. Post published here:

    http://forums.motionbased.com/smf/index.php?topic=10254

    Let’s hope it’s not deleted. I think Garmin need to understand that users have a voice (and cash to spend elsewhere).

    Kieron

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