Garmin's next-gen watches could be a trail runner's dream come true

Man hiking wearing Garmin Instinct 2 watch
The Garmin Instinct 2 has a solar option, but uses a monochrome MIP display (Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin's next generation of smartwatches won't just have super bright OLED displays with solar charging – they'll also be touch-sensitive so you can pan across maps with a swipe of your finger. A new patent application published by the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) explains how the company could combine the three technologies in a single device, giving you a crisp and colorful screen that extends battery life, and is easy to operate when navigating trails.

When you're shopping for a new sports watch right now, there are two main types of screen to consider. OLED displays (like those of the Garmin Epix and Venu 2) are vivid and particularly well suited to maps, but use more power and don't lend themselves well to solar charging. Memory-in-pixel displays (like those of the Garmin Forerunner 945 and Fenix 7) tend to look muddier and need a backlight in tricky lighting conditions, but use less power and can be covered with a layer of photovoltaic material to keep the watch's battery topped up.

In February this year, the USPTO published an application from Garmin, which was seeking to patent an interesting new type of screen technology for its best GPS watches, bike computers, and handheld GPS units. The document explained how, rather than placing a layer of special film over the top of an OLED screen, the company could instead place tiny strips of photovoltaic material in between the sub-pixels that make up the screen.

The result? The best of both worlds – a watch that looks great when displaying maps, and will run for days on a single charge with a daily dose of sunlight (easily done when you're camping or heading off-road).

Tap and touch

Now, Garmin has followed this up with a more detailed description of exactly how this type of screen tech would work in the real world, and it sounds even more impressive. The latest patent application  explains that it could also incorporate touch-sensitivity.

"The viewing area may be provided with a touch screen to receive input (eg, data, commands, etc) from a user," says the document. "For example, a user may operate the watch by touching the touch screen and/or by performing gestures on the screen. In some embodiments, the touch screen may be a capacitive touch screen, a resistive touch screen, an infrared touch screen, combinations thereof, and the like."

While watches like the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar and Forerunner 945 are excellent for backcountry adventures thanks to their accurate satellite positioning and rugged design, their lack of touch controls is a real drawback when it comes to navigation.

We've got our fingers crossed that very soon we'll have a GPS watch on our wrist that will allow us to see bright, full color maps that we can pan across with a flick of a finger, and that we can use for weeks between charges on the trails.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.