dwMap — the Origin Story

Part 1 of the story of dwMap and dynamicWatch

With its first birthday coming up on August 31st 2016, I thought I would share some of the story behind dwMap. dwMap is a popular route map app for Garmin GPS smartwatches such as the Vivoactive and the Forerunner 235.

Although Garmin’s traditional handheld GPS units have excellent map download and display capabilities, this is not a major feature on their running and cycling focused fitness watches. The higher end models such as the Fenix 3 offer a basic mapping capability, but it is not especially easy to download a map to them. When you are exploring a new area, having a route map available at a glance at your wrist is a wonderful tool during a run or bike ride where you don’t want to keep fishing your phone out of your pocket.

In June 2015 I had the chance to pick up a Garmin Vivoactive GPS fitness watch at a great price, and was already intrigued by the possibilities of using Garmin’s recently announced Connect IQ software development kit (SDK) to create apps for it. Since I have a background in the combination of maps, software and fitness tech, I realized that Connect IQ would let me develop a basic map capability that was completely absent from the Vivoactive, and got to work in my spare time on it. By early August I had a basic watch app, which I called dwMap, and a basic companion website to create running and cycling routes to send to the watch, https://dynamic.watch, and I was able to use it to find my way around the French Alps on a week-long cycling trip to Briançon.

It worked kinda brilliantly! It was so convenient being able to click a few points to plot a route on the larger screen of my tablet (the website is a responsive, mobile-enabled site, developed using Ruby on Rails and Google Maps) then just start the watch app and see it appear on the screen.

By August 31st the website and app were working great for me, so I figured I might as well share it in the Garmin App Store, a site run by them to share, discover and download Connect IQ apps for their watches to see if was useful to anyone else. At the time I expected that just a few hundred runners and cyclists would find the app useful. I was surprised and thrilled to see the number of registered users of the app soon climb pass a few hundred, then a thousand, and now to over 50,000!

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to see this community form around the app. I’ve received so much support, feedback, feature requests, bug reports, offers to help with testing, etc. It’s been consistently in the top 4 “apps” in the Garmin app store, and I am using quotes because nearly all the other contenders are watch faces rather than actual apps, since the Connect IQ system offers different kinds of downloadable features for the watches, and dwMap is consistently the most popular app-app.

The story continues in dwMap — After the Launch