A few years ago, when the first activity and fitness tracker hardware launched, it created a buzz around a new market of wearables that's gone on to spawn entire new categories of devices we probably wouldn't have imagined. We're looking at you, Bluetooth smart trackers for dogs. Fast-forward to 2017 and people's love affair with activity tracking and smartwatches seems to be waning.
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Current trends are underwhelming. Even in spite of Android Wear 2.0 arriving with new abilities, people just aren't that excited about wearables. Manufacturers, meanwhile, haven't given up on them yet, and we expect to see more at Mobile World Congress this year.
A quick market history lesson
Early adopters were quick to jump aboard and the excitement of a new category of devices certainly enamored the press. That perhaps contributed towards analyst and retailer expectations being set higher than they should have been for nascent products.
In 2015, (my almost namesake) Ben Wood at CCS Insight predicted that the wearables market could be worth $25 billion globally by 2019. However, just over a year later, in December last year, eMarketer cut its growth forecast for the market as a whole by 35 percent.
That still means that at least 25 percent growth was predicted, but it's a long way from the 60 percent that was initially expected. Cutting growth forecasts so heavily just a few years after a category breaks through is a troubling sign all around. Slowing growth suggests that it could turn to no growth soon enough.
Cutting growth forecasts so heavily just a few years after a category breaks through is a troubling sign all around
It's a problem you can see born out by the companies involved - Fitbit just cut 6 percent of its workforce following a disappointing Christmas sales period. It's not alone either, with Jawbone reportedly considering dropping its line of consumer wearables to focus on the B2B healthcare market.
It's a similar story for smartwatches too - they haven't found a truly convincing reason to get the average person to part with their cash. In fact, due to the relative expensive of a smartwatch, rather than a generic fitness tracker band, the bottom has fallen out of smartwatches even faster.
According to IDC figures for Q3 2016 (just one year after the launch of the Apple Watch), there was a drop of 51.6% (to 2.7 million devices) in comparison to the same period in 2015. Just for comparison, the wearables market excluding smartwatches grew just three percent in the same quarter, again according to IDC.
Stop with the numbers already!
On an anecdotal level, I have 2 activity trackers (both Jawbone) and there's also a Misfit Shine somewhere in the house - exactly where is a different question.
I also have two smartwatches (an early Moto 360 and a Samsung S2 Classic) and used to own a first-gen Samsung Galaxy Gear. You remember, the ones that had an entirely impractical (and possibly even slightly creepy) camera in the wrist strap? Novel, yes, but also ridiculous.
Of the four devices I have access to on a daily basis, guess how many I wear?
In fact, there are periods of time where I all but forget they exist, see them, wear them for a day or two, and then toss them aside again. And that's a problem for the market as a whole; they're not essential to your everyday routine and are hampered by the same battery life problem as phones.
People that buy activity trackers and ultimately end up disappointed or disinterested with them are unlikely to be quick to jump back into the market and buy another one, and for smartwatches the challenge is even harder. They're great activity trackers, and can do some arguably useful things, but they're nowhere close to essential. In the non-tracking functions, they're not even really all that much more convenient than just using your phone in many cases.
People that buy activity trackers and ultimately end up disappointed or disinterested with them are unlikely to be quick to jump back into the market and buy another one
That's not to say they won't ever become essential or find that 'killer use', but they've failed so far, and other ways of tracking activity are already starting to break out, like the Kenzen smart patch that can track your health and movement.
With Mobile World Congress just around the corner, it's probably a little too early to give up on smartwatches and activity trackers in 2017, but if the new Android Wear 2.0 features and two LG smartwatches unveiled alongside it are anything to judge by, consumer feedback isn't being taken seriously enough. The two most common complaints from device owners are battery life and the lack of them fulfilling a vital function in their lives - unless using a medical-grade device to monitor a health condition.
Until these two problems are solved, the smartwatch and activity tracker markets will ultimately withering away and become an interesting side-note in the history of the road to The Next Big Thing.
Do you plan on buying a smartwatch or activity tracker? Let us know in the comments below!