Smartwatches were supposed to take off as smartphones did a decade ago, but it’s been more of a slow burn. Many of the companies that got into smartwatches early (like Pebble) couldn’t tough it out long enough, but the latest report from NPD Group suggests smartwatches have finally turned the corner. Today, about one in six US adults owns a smartwatch, and growth is expected to continue.
NPD says that a 12-month period ending in November 2018 saw smartwatch sales increase by 61 percent. That puts smartwatch ownership in the US at 16 percent, or one in six. You probably won’t be shocked to learn that most of those smartwatch owners are age 34 or younger. Although, NPD concedes that smartwatches could continue growing among older buyers, too. Specifically, the health focus of devices like the Apple Watch 4, with its integrated EKG, could appeal to older folks.
According to the report, LTE smartwatches have been a driving force that pushed wearable adoption ahead. NPD says that consumers like the idea of being able to use the watch even if their phone is not in range. That’s surprising considering LTE watches have poorer battery life and come with additional charges on your monthly bill. However, Apple has claimed success selling its LTE-equipped Apple Watch.
The report says that about 88 percent of smartwatch sales dollars went to the top three manufacturers: Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit. Apple’s presence on the list isn’t surprising, and Samsung’s Tizen watches are surprisingly robust. Fitbit, meanwhile, has managed to sneak into the smartwatch market with less expensive, fitness-oriented devices like the $200 Versa that are just a little smarter than its fitness trackers.
That leaves just 12 percent of the market for devices from the likes of Garmin, Withings, and those running Google’s Wear OS platform. This metric should worry Google — most of its wearable partners have backed away, and Wear OS probably earns less than 10 percent of wearable dollars. Wear OS usage is moving in the wrong direction while smartwatches as a whole are growing.
Apple essentially owns the high-end smartwatch market, but devices from Fitbit and other manufacturers will continue filling in the budget end of the spectrum. Those less-expensive watches could push wearable adoption going forward, but it’s unlikely anyone else is going to rival Apple’s ability to sell $800 smartwatches.
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