2016 has been a very interesting year for wearables. While fitness trackers have prospered, smartwatches have fallen behind (so much so that, like with the iPad and the market for tablets, the market for smartwatches might soon become a market for just Apple Watches). Even Fitbit, considered the king of fitness trackers, has had a couple of bad quarters when it comes to profits. That said, the end of the year is a time when people, along with sharing joy and merry-making, resolve to start working towards becoming fitter in the new year. And if YouGov’s US wearable tech tracker is any indication, 2017’s wearables’ story will be written largely by Apple, Fitbit and Samsung.
The November YouGov tracker, which surveyed 3,000 people of which a third already owned a wearable, has plenty of interesting tidbits. Out of the people who said they were planning to buy a fitness tracker, smartwatch or connected accessory, 8–10% of these were planned for this November and December.
A big 22% of people planning to buy their first wearable in the next 12 months said they are going to buy a Fitbit, another 22% said Apple and 17% said Samsung. Other than this big three, it was slim pickings for Google, LG, Garmin, Nike and Sony (all on 5% or less).
This doesn’t come as even a slight surprise to me. Based on what I have heard, read and seen on people’s wrists, I think that 2017 will be the year when the wearables’ market gets consolidated. The same has already begun with Fitbit acquiring the software assets of what used to me my favourite wearables’ company, Pebble. Another favourite of mine Jawbone, has been quite dormant on the new announcements’ front. The Misfits and Garmins of the wearables’ world, while having released great fitness trackers, haven’t created the headlines they wanted to. On the smartwatch side too, a lot of companies are laying low when it comes to releasing new hardware for Android Wear and the newest version of Android Wear itself was delayed to next year by Google.
When it comes to Fitbit, Apple and Samsung though, things are way brighter on their side of the field. Fitbit has become to fitness trackers what iPod was to music players in the early 2000s. While sales and popularity have been forging an upward trajectory, the company still needs to make their software better and come up with something better than the Blaze and Surge to counter smartwatches. They plan to achieve this with their recent Pebble acquisition and if this acquisition works out as well as they hope, I think Fitbit stands to become the Android to Apple’s Apple Watch in the wearables’ world. While smartwatch sales have plummeted in 2016, Apple’s wearables have been nothing but hits. With a renewed focus on health and fitness and the reduction of the barrier to entry (competing even harder with Fitbit now), Apple’s Watches’ demand is at an all-time high (Tim Cook says as much) and the Cupertino giant’s wearables won’t look back as we enter the new year. And while Samsung, the third wearable-making company on people’s wish-list hasn’t set the wearables’ world on fire with their throw-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-at-the-wall approach following Gear S3 and Gear Fit 2, it is still a very big brand name in the technology industry and I understand why people would want to buy their offerings (the Gear Fit 2, with its design, smarts and price, which I think makes it the best overall package when it comes to wearables, helps).
Another thing that the survey says is that for beginners, fitness tracking (heart-rate, GPS, steps, calories, sleep) and notifications are the most important. Those are what I too use my Apple Watch and Fitbit Alta the most for. In terms of features that wearables tout, expect 2017 to bring us wearables with even better fitness tracking smarts. Other kinds of gimmicky apps on wearables are dead people, I call it.
I would be ecstatic if there is an underdog (Xiaomi, with their Amazfit, maybe, or Garmin, with even better trackers and watches) which rises up and claims 2017, but, if the signs are to be believed, 2017 is going to be the year of Apple, Fitbit and Samsung when it comes to wearables.