Watching the watches – smartwatches and fitness bands [TUPdate]

Smartwatch and fitness band penetration tapers to 2016 levels

The race for the wrist has settled into a larger-than-niche and less-than-majority position. Over the last three years, the share of online Americans using at least one smartwatch has grown from one in six to one in five, only to settle back to the one in six level. This is based on TUP/Technology User Profile 2019 survey of 8,060 online adults in the US, and from the prior three annual waves.

Worse yet for both fitness bands and smartwatches – it’s not as if each are cannibalizing the other. Use of either type of device is also down, dropping from a high of 33% in 2016 to 27% in 2019.
The market has tapered even while smartwatch makers continue to add capabilities well beyond timekeeping and step-counting. Also, it’s happening even as watch-wearers begin to actively use the new capabilities – broadening their use of smartwatches to more activities. Some of the top smartwatch activities include seeing who’s calling before taking a call through or on their smartwatch, recording their heart rates, checking current weather, or using their smartwatch in a store to check products or prices. Convenience is at hand.

Younger adults embrace wearables more than older Americans

Younger Americans have adopted Smart watches and other wearables more strongly than older Americans. Just over half of online Americans age 18 to 34 use at least one Bluetooth headset, smartwatch, or fitness band. In stark contrast, just less than one in five (19%) online Americans age 65 or higher use any of these wearables. Among this set, fitness bands have the highest penetration, on the wrists of one in nine (11%).
Hearables are an important category to track. In addition to sales by watchmakers, beneficiaries include digital media services (specifically music), cellular carriers, and the full ecosystem of e-wallet payments and retailers.

All along the watch tower

Apple’s penetration towers head and shoulders above Wear OS/Android Wear and other smartwatches. With nearly two-thirds (63%) of smartwatch users using at least one Apple Smart Watch, Apple has double the active usage rate of every other type of Wear OS/Android Wear smartwatch. Apple’s continued model refresh has helped it keep the top spot as much as miscues by Google and other Wear OS smartwatch makers has hurt them. Apple has arguably kept the smartwatch category alive as both smartwatches and fitness bands have lost their luster.

Apple’s broad footprint

Apple is concinnating its offerings through a range of devices and supporting services both free and paid. This has especially helped with the adoption of its most-personal products such as Apple Watch. Apple’s Watch customers use many other Apple products. In the US, users of Apple Watch actively use an average of 3.2 Apple products. The collection among Apple Watch users varies by age, with younger adults having relatively higher penetration of Apple Macs and AirPods, and older adults having greater iPad and Apple TV use. Higher iPad use helps bolster the average number of Apple products to 3.4 and more among adults 45 and over.
Apple continues to walk the fine line of designing products open enough to play well with other ecosystems, while also reserving some benefits to those who stay within the Apple family.

Looking ahead

The thousands of respondents we surveyed in July and August 2019 reported the strongest purchase plans for Apple Watch smartwatches among those planning any smartwatch, higher than for Wear OS/Android Wear or other smartwatches. This is on track with recent market penetration trends. Intentions for purchasing fitness trackers are modest, also in line with withering active usage rates.

Shortly after we conducted the TUP/Technology User Profile 2019 wave, Apple released its newest Apple Watch 5 line. Also, Google tendered an offer to acquire FitBit. In our privacy surveys earlier this year, online Americans rated Google 2nd in distrust after Facebook – reportedly another bidder for FitBit. Consumers distrust both companies with their privacy and personal data, and this sentiment is among the overall population of online Americans as well as their own customers. I expect to see further entrenchment among both Google Android and Apple users, as each expands its footprint. Current Apple or Apple-positive users will be the first to abandon a Google FitBit platform to protect their privacy and personal health data. Many will consider Apple Watch more seriously. Consumers deeply engaged with the Google ecosystem with Android smartphones are less likely to leave FitBit over privacy concerns. We’ll be watching.

About this TUPdate

The analysis in this TUPdate is based on results drawn from multiple waves of TUP (Technology User Profile), including the 2019 edition which is TUP’s 37th continuous wave. This survey-based study details the use of technology products by a carefully-selected and weighted set of respondents drawn to represent online adults.


Current TUP subscribers may request the supporting TUP information used for this analysis or for even deeper analysis. For more information about MetaFacts and subscribing to TUP, please contact MetaFacts.