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How Garmin keeps pace with giant rivals such as Apple and Google

March 19, 2020, 12:35 PM UTC

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Companies and people do come through crises. Garmin, which most people know as a maker of consumer fitness devices, survived not one but two tough times in the late oughts. Its story, ably told by Fortune’s Danielle Abril in the current issue of the magazine, is a good reminder of how and why great companies make it through to the other side. 

Garmin was an unlikely consumer success to begin with. Its founders were Allied Signal engineers who had worked on military-grade applications of GPS, the government-controlled satellite navigation system. When GPS opened for civilian use, Garmin founders Gary Burrell and Min Kao—Garmin is a mashup of their first names—made a device for boaters, pilots, and other enthusiasts that became a household name.

Then came the double whammy of Google Maps on the iPhone followed by the financial crisis of 2008-2009. The company’s sales and stock price got slammed, but it kept making money. And being the good Midwesterners that they are—Garmin is headquartered in a suburb of Kansas City—they stayed focused on products related to GPS. As Garmin CEO Cliff Pemble related to Abril in a rare interview, a bunch of running enthusiast employees already had begun noodling on jamming GPS into a watch. As Garmin’s automotive product declined into irrelevance, its fitness devices soared. 

What I love about the Garmin story is how the company stayed focused, and how well it has fared despite competing with the giants of Silicon Valley.  

There’s your story of hope for what feel like hopeless times. 

Adam Lashinsky

@adamlashinsky

adam.lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

NEWSWORTHY

Clickety-clack. From our lips to Tim Cook's ears. Apple announced several updates on Wednesday, including a cheaper MacBook Air with an improved scissor-mechanism keyboard and a speedier iPad Pro with a...wait for it...improved scissor-mechanism keyboard add-on. The new keyboard also has a trackpad, a first for the Apple tablet.

Stars in my eyes. After a cancelled launch a few days ago, SpaceX had better luck on Wednesday, successfully lofting 60 more satellites for its Starlink Internet service. Elon Musk's incipient broadband-from-space plan now has over 350 satellites in orbit, getting close to operational capacity (400 satellites will provide "minor" coverage of the Earth, the company has said).

It's time to kick ass and chew bubble gum—and I'm all outta gum. Cooped up inside and playing lots of video games? That seems to be the trend—Verizon said that while its total Internet traffic is up 20% this week from last week, traffic related to gaming is up 75%. Sony whet the appetite of gamers by unveiling further details about its upcoming PlayStation 5. The new box will run a custom processor from AMD that can perform more than 10 teraflops and has SSD storage to load a 2 GB game in one-quarter of a second.

I'll sell water to a well. State and federal regulators approved Square's application to open a bank in Utah. The payments startup says its banking unit will offer small business loans starting next year.

Putting the 'A' in 'Q&A.' Newly off of Microsoft's board, maybe Bill Gates had some extra time on his hands? He jumped on Reddit yesterday for a quick session of "Ask Me Anything" about COVID-19. Bottom line: "We do need to stay calm even though this is an unprecedented situation." In other tech pandemic updates, an Amazon warehouse worker in Queens, N.Y., tested positive for the virus and the company shuttered the facility temporarily for cleaning. Meanwhile, the European Union asked Netflix to reduce the quality of its streamed videos to preserve bandwidth.

Extra edition. Tuesday's "Food for Thought" section should have noted that the story of Tyler Gillet's search for a forgotten 1990s song was initially reported by Gimlet's delightful Reply All podcast. Worth a listen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

On Wednesday, the Association for Computing Machinery gave out its Turing award, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of computing. The winners were Pat Hanrahan and Ed Catmull, names that might be familiar to any close readers of the credits from movies like Toy Story, Monsters Inc, or The Incredibles. The pair of researchers helped Pixar create RenderMan, the underlying software that made realistic digitally animated movies possible. New York Times reporter Cade Metz explains how Hanrahan and Catmull also published papers to help others in the field.

“Almost every project was owned by the community of computer scientists,” said Michael Rubin, the author of “Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution,” who worked alongside Dr. Catmull at Lucasfilm. “A product like RenderMan was not just something made by Pixar, for Pixar. It belonged to the community.”

This accelerated the development of software and hardware like the specialized computer chips needed to generate 3-D images. These graphics processing units, or G.P.U.s, drove the 3-D computer games that became ubiquitous in the 1990s and 2000s. Later, they played an essential role in the design of virtual reality and artificial intelligence technology, including the techniques that underpinned self-driving cars, facial recognition services and talking digital assistants like Alexa.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

6 steps to sustainably flatten the coronavirus curve By Rich Lesser

3 things Facebook is doing to counter criticism of its coronavirus response By Danielle Abril

Here’s why Zoom was zooming even before the coronavirus pandemic By Michal Lev-Ram

Your tips for working from home…with kids By Claire Zillman and Emma Hinchliffe

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a 50% discount for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

BEFORE YOU GO

NASA had an unusual solution to solve a problem with the InSight Lander that's supposed to be digging beneath the surface of Mars. When the craft's digger got stuck in clumpy soil, the only way to free it? Have the lander bang itself with the shovel on its robotic arm. Ouch! Also, per a promise to one of my stuck-at-home teens: penguins!

Aaron Pressman

@ampressman

aaron.pressman@fortune.com