Don’t Over-Simplify Women’s Lack of Interest in Smartwatches

Carolina Milanesi / August 31st, 2016

Current smartwatches sales are heavily skewed towards men. In the US, Galaxy Gear ownership skews 76% towards men and 24% female. Current Apple Watch ownership splits 80% men and 20% female for early adopters which are predominantly male. Among mainstream consumers where the balance of men and women does not skew to men, Apple Watch sees a 65% male and 35% female split. On the other hand, Fitbit ownership is over 60% female. Given the clear split, it is understandable vendors seem to be wanting to cater to women and men through two different products: fitness bands and smartwatches. This week at IFA, we are expecting products that will likely fall into one of these categories with design aimed at the different genders. From size to colors used for the bands and more, smartwatches are clearly male while fitness bands range from heavily female to gender neutral. Look at the Samsung Gear S3 launched at IFA as a good example of a male targeted device.

Not just about design

However, just looking at sales and ownership numbers and concluding women do not buy smartwatches because of the design is an over-simplification of what is going on in the market and one that will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When talking about gender differences, one risks quickly falling into stereotyping but it is a fact women tend to be technology laggards compared to men. Because of that, they tend to spend less money on technology unless the product has more of a visceral appeal.

Try as you might, smartwatches are still not perceived as jewelry. The value is still unclear and the price remains relatively high compared to fitness bands. 85% of women bought a wearable to count their steps. Only 11% bought it to receive notifications. However, after having a device that supports notification, close to 20% of women say it is one of the features they find more valuable.

So fitness sells but why does it have to be a band?

Women are more likely than men to wear jewelry or an expensive watch before they bought a wearable. This means wearables have to displace something which is harder than covering a previously “naked” wrist. Considering only 18% of women we interviewed said they bought their wearable because of the look and feel, it seems to me that is points to a lack of value for money proposition for women. Remember, they are technology laggards so tech, per se, is not a selling point.

Bands are cheaper and meet the key needs but vendors should not neglect women when it comes to smartwatches. Gender neutral designs have done very well for Pebble. They see the female vs male ratio almost opposite that of their competitors. Apple has also fared a little better thanks to the different sizes of Watch. This really is a case of “build it and they will come”. With the right design and marketing, smartwatches could appeal more to women. If the fashionable component is added to the mix, price will be less of an issue and could actually offer more of an upside than it would with men.

Don’t think of size, think of thickness

The real issue women have with smartwatches is the thickness rather than the overall size of the face. Larger can actually be fashionable but thickness and weight actually impact the overall experience. Of course, thickness is somewhat mandated by all the sensors in these devices. Yet, considering what we said about what women want from their wearable and the lower price tag that appeals to them, examining what is necessary and what is not might be a good place to start. This does not mean making “dumber or simpler” smartwatches for women. Hopefully, vendors have learned something from trying to do the same in the early stages of the smartphone market.

Avoid the temptation to just cater to today’s buyers

With other hardware segments struggle — from PCs, to tablets, to smartphones — it is understandable vendors are focusing more on what sells today than what could sell tomorrow. However, in the long run, women represent an opportunity that cannot be neglected. By positioning smartwatches as being “just for men”, vendors might convince women this category has nothing to offer, leaving them to be content with more and more affordable fitness bands.

Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc. She focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services she analyses today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech she drove thought leadership research. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role she lead the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets and PCs.
  • Suednimh

    I have a base model Pebble-I also happen to be a tech geek (my first language was Fortran-on punch cards…). I have worn a watch most of my life. The “value for money spent” you cite worked out to one over-riding concern-Is it waterproof (outdoor recreation quantities of water)? And second-how often do I have to charge it? I also appreciate the low barrier to entry for Pebble devs and wanted to try my hand at programming watch apps.

    Now that I have had it almost a year, the Pebble has taken EVERYTHING I threw at it-serious quantities of mud; dishwater; pouring rain. Charging is infrequent enough-it was around 7 days between charges when it was new; now it needs a charge about every 5 days-which may be age, or changes in the firmware. When it needs a charge, you get plenty of warning (maybe a day?), and a low power mode if you don’t get around to it. My desire to dabble in the software has been thwarted by lack of time, but soon, I hope! I admire the craftsmanship of many of the developers that have posted watch faces and apps to share with others. When it is time to get a new one, I will probably step up to something with a metal case for appearances, even though the plastic case has been superbly rugged-the face shows only a minimal amount of wear, even after wall-scrapes, gravel, carpentry. I’m not a model or a CEO, so I am glad I was able to find a smartwatch that fits the way I live without much compromise on my part.

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