Wearable Market Observations From the Masses

A little over a week ago, I attended the Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Thousands of people showed up from all over the country to eat great food and listen to great music. Being an overly observant student of humanity, I took particular interest in observing how many people I saw with a wearable tech product of some kind and, when possible, started a friendly conversation to see how they liked their chosen piece of wearable technology and what motivated them to purchase it. After all, crowds, and lines in particular, always present a great research opportunity. Here are a few observations.

Wearables are certainly showing up in more places. Jazz Fest presented a unique and diverse opportunity and spotting either a Fitbit, an Apple Watch, or a Garmin was not an uncommon sight. Our latest consumer smart survey on the wearable market yielded a 23% ownership of some wearable tech product. Fitbit remains the most owned wearable tech brand in our consumer panel and my observations from the crowd came to the same conclusion. Our data also suggests Fitbit ownership skews more towards women than men and that was the observations in the crowds. Beyond who owned which device, I found great value in something our consumer research panel could not yield. A chance to see these people in person. There was a distinct set of profiles I observed.

The core driving factor for ownership of a wearable is still health and fitness. This is why most people buy one and is the hook to drive wearable ownership for at least the time being. However, there were two types of health profiles I observed and learned from conversations. I break wearable ownership into two categories because of this. Those who are already fit and regularly engage in some fitness activity like running, training, etc., and those who are not fit but are trying to be. A third category was slightly less common than the other two — people with an existing health condition using a piece of wearable tech (generally recommended by their doctor) to monitor their activity level and maintain specific health goals.

Within the general crowd, Fitbit is winning the fitness angle with those looking to maintain and those looking to get more fit. Garmin on the other hand, has a clear lock on the hardcore fitness crowd. This group consists of serious long distance runners, cyclists, and people in dedicated athletic training. While Fitbit is the market share winner and the brand of choice by general fitness consumers and those wanting to be fit, Garmin was one the serious fitness fanatics prefer.

When it came to those consumers were wanted the fitness angle but also had a clear bend toward fashion (I could tell this by their choice of clothing and other accessories) Apple has this group locked up. From my conversations with Apple Watch owners, we have learned the Apple Watch skews toward those where fitness and fashion were priorities. A third priority was also found, but in much lower quantities than the previous two — those who had an affinity for technology also found that a driving motivator for buying an Apple Watch.

Fitness, fashion, and tech seemed to the common angles for Apple Watch owners as a combination more so than any other wearable.

Combining these findings, along with our primary research on the wearable category, it is clear the biggest single driver is health and fitness. That is the reason most people put something on their wrist when before there was nothing in most cases. People want to stay healthy and larger portions of consumers are looking to get healthy. This segment I think presents one of the biggest upsides for the category. As wearable tech helps us to become smarter about our own bodies, to understand what is good and not good for us and, most importantly, to develop healthy and life changing habits, then I think this category begins to ramp to new levels.

So where do we go from here? The technology still has a way to go but this is still the fastest growing category in consumer tech. Making it the one real bright spot, from a hardware standpoint, of the consumer electronics industry. I expect everyone in the market today is playing the long game and at Google’s developer conference in a few weeks, and Apple’s next month, I expect this to be a key topic area.

Most consumers (69% from our research) still have no plans to buy a wearable this year. However, what has changed is almost 20% of the market said they are more interested in a wearable than they were six months ago and nearly 30% of non-wearable owning consumers today say they could see themselves owning one some day. So consumer sentiment is positive, despite the negative narrative most try to project onto this category.

I’m still bullish but I’ve said from the start this adoption cycle will be much slower and more gradual than other products of the past few years. I stand by both convictions.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

8 thoughts on “Wearable Market Observations From the Masses”

  1. A smartphone can also be used for some health tasks. Withings app counts steps for me for my walks. If running is in the cards for me, then the heartbeat count may be better served or more precise by the chest strap. Sleep tracking is another health app that could be served by the wearables. Also emotion tracking sounds promising, but again, not all people may be willing to have their emotions tracked…

  2. What I wanted to suggest is that the money’s making device invented by me in a previous post (a holographic emotion tracking projector) is not for everybody. One can actually have studios to pay for spending the time with it.

  3. What I find paradoxical is that smartwatches actually require more effort than phones for user input and output: input uses one hand to “type” and the second to position the watch vs one for a phone; screen is less glanceable than a (bigger) phone’s except maybe for the eagle-eyed.

    Hence, my smartwatch is gathering dust. Then again, I’m not hypersocial, nor into quantifying myself.

    1. Maybe you’re just not old enough yet. As you approach 50 there’s a lot of health data that many people need to start tracking in a more formal way. Wearables are great for this. I’m probably going to get one of the Fitbits soon for exactly this reason. My wife will probably get an Apple Watch this summer, the job-to-be-done driving that is missed notifications (calls, texts, emails). She carries her iPhone in her purse and it’s very easy to not hear it ring or buzz or beep. The Apple Watch solves this problem, easily worth the cost of the device. Of course she’ll get more than just that out of the Apple Watch. We may look at other wristbands that can take care of notifications, if we decide all we need is solving missed calls, then maybe one of the Fitbits can do that (or some other device), and then you only charge weekly, which is handy. Although it isn’t hard to charge overnight, so maybe one day vs one week battery life isn’t much of a concern.

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