Could Garmin’s outage mean an end of the popularity of their products?

The Garmin server outage has now lasted for more than four days, and this has effected anyone using their cycling GPS computers as they won’t connect or upload the data to Garmin’s preparatory software or apps.  Garmin says it has been the victim of a cyberattack where ransomware was uploaded to their servers, and the media is reporting that the company is being held hostage for $10million.

Garmin says:

GARMIN OUTAGE

Garmin is currently experiencing an outage that affects Garmin services including Garmin Connect. As a result of the outage, some features and services across these platforms are unavailable to customers. Additionally, our product support call centers are affected by the outage and as a result, we are currently unable to receive any calls, emails or online chats.

We are working to restore our systems as quickly as possible and apologize for the inconvenience. Additional updates will be provided as they become available.

Garmin, like every company, will know that if it was to pay the ransom then it would become an ongoing target to hackers around the globe.  It also has, I would imagine, a fairly formidable IT department including programmers who should be able to crack the ransomware coding, given time.  But do they have time?  That’s the thing.

Garmin customers are getting increasingly annoyed, and customers are fickle creatures sometimes.  The longer the outage lasts, the more likely there is be a longer term backlash against purchasing their products in future.  At the moment Garmin are saying our personal details are not in danger, but do they know the extent of the hack as yet, and all their customers will have a little niggle in the back of their mind about this.

Already, in the world of cycling, we are seeing sales of Wahoo products rising.  People who were considering a switch anyway have, probably, brought forward their purchases.  New cycle computer customers, trying to decide if they want Garmin or Wahoo, could have had their minds made up by this.

Once someone buys into a system, they tend to stay with it.  It’s a little bit like photography and the debate between Canon and Nikon.  Once you make your choice then you are stuck in a very costly scenario if you wish to change over.  Nikon equipment is not cross compatible with Canon, in most cases, and vice versa.

The biggest difference here though is because of ANT+ technology.  ANT+ enables current Garmin users to switch to Wahoo and still use their existing Garmin add-ons.  If you have a Garmin power meter with ANT+ then it will work on both, the same goes for cadence and speed sensors etc.  So, although you still have to purchase a new head unit, which is of course the expensive bit, swapping over doesn’t mean and entire change of system.  Relatively speaking, the costs of switching are not actually too bad.  Sure, a Bolt or a Roam is going to cost you £200 or £300 respectively, and that’s not to be taken lightly for many people, but at least you don’t need to replace the full system.

The other advantage is that a lot of people using both Garmin and Wahoo will also be using Strava and Komoot.  Both of these third party platforms already work perfectly with both products, so again there is nothing saying you have to stay loyal to the first one you chose.

It is becoming harder to get hold of a Bolt with many retailers websites showing Out of Stock, and this is likely to also push people to make the switch now if they have the option.   We don’t know how much longer the outage is going to go on for, and if you were thinking of jumping you might want to do so whilst you see a Wahoo unit in stock.

Should you switch?

Well, that’s a tricky one.  Garmin could be back up and running in a few minutes time, we simply don’t know.  £300 for a new head unit (typically the cost of a Wahoo Roam) is a lot of money for what could be a few hours more of patient waiting.  But, if you were a bit disillusioned or disappointed with your current Garmin, or thinking of upgrading anyway, this could be the moment.

The worry is of course that Garmin could be attacked again, and again.  But then, they will be tightening their internal protocols and their external connections massively as a result of this, which should mean it will then make them a very difficult target.  Hackers could then move on to another service provider such as Strava.

Wahoo units also really require the app on the phone to be running to make any changes at all to their unit’s set up.  This is an advantage to the user, but if that app were to be disabled in a similar style of attack then their units are rendered even more unusable that Garmin’s currently are.  At least with the Garmin units, they don’t depend on the phone app.  You can change settings on the unit, and connect and upload to third parties with direct files.  You need a computer, but it’s not really tricky to do it, and I uploaded my ride to Strava last night without any fuss.

I don’t know how Wahoo units would get on in the same situation.  If you do, then please let me know in the comments below.

I have been using a Garmin Edge 820 for nearly a year, and I went for Garmin because I also had a Garmin watch, and a Garmin car sat-nav.  I wanted synchronicity between all my fitness units, and I was familiar with operating Garmin systems.

Being honest though, I was tempted by Wahoo at the time but was put off by the cost difference as I could get an Edge 820 quite cheaply, by comparison, as the 830 had just come out.  There’s a bit of me that wishes I had gone the Wahoo route though.  This is mainly because the one thing I really use my Garmin for which is navigation.  Sadly it is also the one thing I really hate about it too.  If you go off route, whilst it kindly tells you that you have, it doesn’t tell you what to do about it.  There isn’t the an automatic rerouting of the course, or a reroute to get you back on course which would be even better, so you’re on your own and a bit lost.  Wahoo does route you back to the course, and that is the one thing I miss most.

Perhaps it is something Garmin is saving for an upgraded model to try to get my money again?  I don’t know, but it really flipping annoys me.  I also hate that when you pause, you get paused on whichever screen you were looking at.  This means if you have yours scrolling from map to stats and back to maps, you might pause on either.  Now, I can pretty much guarantee that if you’ve taken a wrong turn and need to see the map you’ll be paused on the stats screen.  I don’t know why, but this is also really unhelpful.

The touch screen doesn’t work properly in the rain, and in Scotland we get a lot of rain, and I’ve ended up with laps being recorded when all I’ve done is try to wipe the water off to see what it was saying.  I also find the screen is too glossy and hard to see in bright light with lots of reflections, such as on a cycle path edged by trees, which is most of the cycle paths in Edinburgh.

As you can see, from my point of view, this outage could be the final straw.  Sure the outage itself doesn’t really bother me as my rides are stored on the unit.  I can manually upload to Strava if I want to as well.  But when you add this on to the list of things that were grating a bit already, then you can see why I was looking at my credit card balance last night and wondering if I could justify a Wahoo Roam.

I am fed up with getting lost, and I’m really good at getting lost.  I would really like rerouting on my GPS, even at a sacrifice for the ‘training’ features, because at my point in my cycling career I’m not ‘training’ anyway.  I ride because I enjoy it, and it keeps me fit and healthy.  Getting lost isn’t funny, especially when it makes you late for something important, like it did last month.  I got lost in the one way system and as a result was ten minutes late.  Garmin didn’t help at all – it didn’t give me the turn I needed until I had already missed it, and then it just told me I was off course but not how to correct it.  It did tell me make a U-turn, but I couldn’t from where I was.  At the time, in the rush hour, on a street with no pavement (or stopping), I couldn’t even get off and walk back!

If I am fed up and considering changing, then I cannot be alone.  There must be many others, and not just in cycling, that are beginning to look at alternatives.  The outage might be the final straw for some of us, and once customers start to vote with their wallets then companies need to seriously up their game to keep the ones they have and try to attract those customers back.  Customers don’t switch easily, and not when large sums of money are involved.  Once Garmin loses customers, it will be hard to get them back.

So, yes, this outage could spell the end of the popularity of their products, but it could also spur them on to not just increase their cyber security against further attacks, but to support their customers with improved products and at cheaper prices (I can hope) in the future to both retain their loyalty, and regain their market share.  For now, let’s just hope they fix this and get us all back online quickly.

 

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