Garmin fitness app shows software is where it’s at

Long-time GPS product company, Garmin, released its first fitness application for Apple iOS(s aapl) and Google Android(s goog) phones on Tuesday. The new Garmin Fit (s grmn) software is priced at $0.99 and uses a smartphone’s GPS radio to track speed, distance, route traveled and calories burned, all of which can be logged online with the Garmin Connect service. The company also introduced a new $49.99 wireless adapter that connects to an iPhone.

The release of Garmin Fit illustrates a continued industry shift from single-use hardware toward software, thanks to sensor-filled smartphones. As an avid runner, I remember my first experience of mixing exercise with mobile technology in 2004, which required new hardware.

Back then, I spent several hundred dollars for a Garmin Forerunner watch that had a large display and integrated GPS radio. I wore it on my wrist — although it took up most of my forearm — and I tracked my running efforts in real time.

Fast forward to today, and such watches are much smaller, feature-filled and less expensive; a basic Garmin with the same functionality today is around $150. Of course, that buys you what’s essentially a single-purpose product when compared to a smartphone that doesn’t cost much more. Yes, there’s a monthly data plan cost for the phone, which an exercise watch doesn’t have, but that connection opens up near limitless usage scenarios. For Garmin to maintain relevance in this new connected world, it has to migrate its product focus from hardware- to software-centric.

And Garmin knows this: It has almost a dozen software titles in the iTunes App Store, for example. The company isn’t giving up on hardware by any means; it still makes personal navigation devices. Garmin also extends the utility of its $0.99 fitness app with a $50 add-on adapter that uses ANT+ wireless technology with Garmin sensors for advanced data tracking.

Ultimately though, the smartphone has changed the hardware market for mobile gadgets, and we’ll be discussing that next month at our RoadMap event. Not everyone wants to run with a smartphone in hand, of course, but the sensors, chips and connectivity in our handsets are finding their way to more intelligent, multi-purpose watches and other wearable devices. The traditional hardware makers that continue to thrive in the future have to recognize that hardware is only half of the solution; software is equally important, if not more so.

Garmin Forerunner 201 image courtesy of Flickr user, planetc1