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Few takers for wearable devices?

  • Fitness trackers are the most popular wearable devices currently
  • Smart watches will lure consumers away from fitness trackers but not immediately and not completely
  • Apple Watch is significantly outpacing initial iPad adoption

While the wearables category has been coming up with innovations, it still has one thing lacking – consumer interest. Awareness of wearable devices is up, industry forecasts for growth are high, but consumers’ interest in purchasing any such device, besides a fitness tracker is low, according to an eMarketer report.

According to the data, there was a gap of 10 million units between the most conservative and most aggressive projections in the estimates for the 2014 wearables shipments made by multiple firms.

“Assessing the state of wearable technology is actually becoming more difficult as time goes on. The number and variety of products that fall into the ‘wearable’ category and the speed at which the selection of products is expanding are making forecasting difficult,” said Cathy Boyle, senior mobile analyst at eMarketer.

Wearable device shipment projections for 2015 vary even more widely. International Data Corporation forecast global shipments would reach 45.7 million units this year—a 133.2 per cent increase from 2014—whereas CCS Insight estimated 75 million wearable devices would be shipped, up 158.6 per cent year over year.

Yano Research Institute has taken the most aggressive stance, forecasting shipments of 104.8 million wearable devices this year. This figure is more than four times the number the research firm estimated for 2014.

The report highlights that despite these bullish projections on growth, the figures are still small in a worldwide context.

“No matter how you slice ownership data—as a percentage of the population, internet users or smartphone users—relatively few consumers currently own a wearable device,” said Ms Boyle.

According to the report, Apple Watch has helped in raising consumer awareness of wearable devices as a whole. The report suggests that while fitness trackers are the most popular wearable devices currently, smart watches will lure consumers away from them but not immediately and not completely. But the report also highlights that just as e-readers continue to appeal to hardcore readers, a subset of consumers who are focussed solely on monitoring their daily activity levels will likely continue to use fitness trackers over smart watches.

According to the report, 2015 will see a rapid growth in smart watch shipments as well known players such as Apple, Samsung, Sony, Motorola, Google and LG, have launched new products.  While estimates for smart watch shipments worldwide in 2015 from global research firms vary widely, most fall between Gartner’s prediction of 21 million shipments and IHS’s 34 million. The outlier, Yano Research Institute, predicted in October 2014 that more than 65 million smart watches would ship this year.

The report highlights that comparing smart watch shipment estimates for 2015 (the launch year of Apple Watch) vs. tablet shipment forecasts for 2010 (the launch year of the iPad) shows how quickly the smart watch market is expected to grow as the numbers suggest smart watches are taking off faster than tablets did.

In the year the iPad was released, Gartner projected 19.5 million tablet devices would ship worldwide in 2010. Investment firm Piper Jaffray was more conservative in its estimate, projecting 11.32 million shipments for the same year.

In contrast, smart watch shipment projections for 2015 are much higher, ranging from 21 million on the low end to 34 million on the high end.

The comparison of early sales of the Apple Watch vs. the iPad show that one million Apple Watches were sold during its first day on the market, according to Slice Intelligence. It took 28 days for the iPad to achieve that milestone, according to Tractica. By these measurements, the Apple Watch is significantly outpacing initial iPad adoption.

“Even though the Apple Watch has had early sales success, consumer survey data suggests manufacturers, specifically their marketing teams, have significant work to do in convincing the average person that a smart watch is as worthy of their time and money as tablets proved to be,” said Ms Boyle.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.