The latest research from Mintel finds that step-obsessed Brits have helped drive sales of smartwatches and fitness bands to an estimated four million devices in 2017, up 18% from 2016. Highlighting the popularity of these gadgets, a step-loving one in five (20%) Brits report using wearable technology to measure their steps.
Mintel research also reveals that although sales of fitness trackers still have the edge over smartwatches, the gap is closing. Indeed, between 2016-2017, the smartwatch sector experienced a greater sales increase, up 23% from 2016, with an estimated 1.96 million devices sold in 2017. Meanwhile, sales of fitness trackers increased 16% over the same period with an estimated 1.99 million devices sold in 2017.
While ownership of smartphones (82%) and tablets (58%) has remained largely stable throughout 2016-17, that of smartwatches has steadily risen to its current 9% level, up from just 2% in 2014. Meanwhile, ownership of fitness bands stands at 16%, up from 7% in 2015.
The overall merits of wearable technology are highlighted by the fact that 33% of all Brits believe wearable technology will make their lives better.
“The rapid improvements in the functionality of wearable technology have increased the appeal of these devices to a much broader market,” says Andrew Moss, technology analyst at Mintel. “Increasingly presenting these devices as fashion pieces should also help to boost their popularity with less technology-savvy consumers. Some manufacturers are even willing to concede some functionality to produce devices that follow the traditional circular design of wristwatches.”
Smartwatch tops wearable technology wishlist
Smartwatches top the list of wearable technology Brits would consider purchasing. Almost a third (32%) of Brits say they would purchase a smartwatch, followed by 29% who say the same about fitness bands/sports watches, and 27% who would consider a clip-on fitness/activity tracker.
Beyond the steps, around a quarter (24%) of Brits say they would consider purchasing a wearable camera, while a health conscious 22% are open to buying a wearable heart rate monitor. Meanwhile, just over one in five (21%) Brits is interested in combining fashion and technology with smart jewelry, while nearly the same (19%) are interested in smart clothing.
“Fitness tracker growth is estimated to have slowed as consumers begin to demand more functionality from their devices,” Moss adds. “In contrast, smartwatch sales are estimated to have grown in part due to the entry of fashion brands into the smartwatch market. Looking ahead, smartwatch ownership is likely to overtake basic fitness trackers.”
Parents set to fuel future sales
Just under two in five (38%) consumers say they are interested in using wearable technology for health and wellness monitoring, followed by 27% for sports and training monitoring and 21% for security and access control. Meanwhile, one in five (20%) Brits would be interested in using technology to control smart home devices and 19% for mobile payments.
Parents are also particular interested in technology purchase to aid them with watching their children: 38% of parents of under-16s are interested in devices which monitor and track kids, including location and sleep monitoring.
“Technology providers have identified children as a valuable demographic for wearable technology, where including a cellular signal can provide a smartphone-like device with functionality that can be controlled by the parent,” continues Moss. “The appeal of such devices is that parents can pre-program emergency contacts, meaning they do not need to worry about their child contacting strangers or being tracked by someone other than them. The consequence is peace of mind for the parent, a device the child will enjoy, and a new market in which wearable devices can grow.”
Ready to leave the smartphone at home?
Almost three in ten (28%) consumers support leaving a smartphone at home if a smartwatch could offer the same functionality, such as calls, messaging, music, and web searching. This figure increases to 36% of 16- to 24-year-olds and 40% of 25- to 34-year-olds.
A specific case for replacing smartphones with connected smartwatches is during sports and fitness, with 37% of consumers interested in using wearables to track these activities saying they’d consider leaving their house with just a smartwatch. However, 24% of consumers who aren’t interested in electronic sports tracking would still consider this option.
“Whether consumers will actually leave their phone at home whilst out and about, remains to be seen,” concludes Moss. “Smartphones are now more commonly used than desktop or laptop computers for many digital activities, so connected smartwatches must seamlessly offer the smartphone functions most important to consumers.”