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How Wearable Makers Can Tap into Health to Expand the Market

It was only a matter of time before we would begin wearing technology and seamlessly integrating it into our everyday activities.

Picture this: Two friends are walking through their neighborhood, when one gets a phone call. As she taps her smartwatch to answer, her companion checks her fitness tracker to find out how many miles they’ve walked. Later, they use their sunglasses to capture some short video of their surroundings to share with other friends.

In a relatively short time, this scenario has become commonplace. Wearable devices, as a good example of the Internet of Things, range from the Fitbit, which tracks steps, distance and more, to Snapchat Spectacles, which allows users to record life as it happens.

The two most recognizable names in wearables brands are Fitbit, known for its fitness trackers, and Apple, which launched its smartwatch just two years ago. In a new survey by ReportLinker, Americans mentioned Fitbit 47% of the time, in unaided recall, and 78% of the time when aided. Apple garnered 15% of unaided mentions and 73% of aided mentions.

Both companies have pitched their devices to consumers as the key to getting and staying fit. This sales pitch has resonated with Americans, who were first introduced to the concept of health tracking via smartphone apps. Today, 40% of Americans say they have a tracker app on their phone, according to ReportLinker, and health and fitness apps are very popular. 

Health apps, which monitor steps, heartbeat, sleep and numerous other health measures, are the most popular, mentioned 21% of the time by survey respondents. Sport tracker and weight loss apps follow, with 11% of mentions each. The latter is particularly popular among women, who mentioned it 16% of the time.

Although wearable trackers are relative newcomers to the portable devices market, they already have achieved high levels of awareness among Americans, 57% of whom say they’re familiar with them, according to ReportLinker.

Apple’s multimillion dollar campaign ($38 million in March/April 2015) to promote its smartwatch certainly contributed to raising awareness, but Americans’ familiarity with smartphone trackers also paved the way for fast adoption. This also explains why Apple iPhone users are especially likely to be familiar with all types of wearables, including smartwatches, fitness trackers or smart wear, says ReportLinker.

Because health and fitness is big business in the U.S., using it as a hook to expand the market is a smart move for wearable technology companies. Since the weight-loss industry alone is estimated at $6.3 billion, it comes as no surprise to hear consumers are snapping up wearable devices to improve their health and fitness.

As little as four years after Fitbit launched its first tracker, 41% of Americans now say they own such a device. And fitness trackers seem to be outselling smartwatches almost two to one. In the ReportLinker survey, Americans mentioned fitness trackers 26% of the time compared to just 12% of the time for smartwatches.

As expected, because Fitbit and Apple Watch are the most recognizable names in health-related wearable devices, 77% of US respondents say they own a fitness tracker made by one of these brands. ReportLinker found that more than half of respondents overall say they own a Fitbit, while just one in four own an Apple Watch.

What’s more, each brand held the top spot in their respective category. Sixty-one percent of smartwatch owners say they have the Apple Watch, while 78% of fitness tracker owners say they use a Fitbit device, according to the survey.

However, although owners are committed to their watches and trackers, non-owners are more skeptical of the value of owning wearable technology. Less than 40% of those who don’t own any such device say they’d be interested in buying either a fitness tracker or smartwatch, with survey respondents more likely to say they’d buy a smartwatch (60% of mentions) compared to a fitness tracker (43% of mentions).

Some consumers simply need a more compelling reason to buy a wearable device. The majority of non-owners said they had no interest at all in getting a device, setting up a tough challenge for manufacturers.

More than 60% of respondents said they saw no real need for owning a device, while another 20% said their smartphones performed all the health functions they needed, according to the survey.

For manufacturers of wearable devices, development of new products and campaigns focused on innovative fitness and exercise applications might be the best way to increase sales. After all, 40% of those who own or are considering buying are motivated by the health benefits.

Those who aim to get or stay fit say they want to track fitness measures such as calories and miles. In fact, exercising more was the main justification given by one out of four respondents to ReportLinker’s survey.

This squares with the way owners describe using their wearable technology. According to ReportLinker, nearly half of current and potential owners say they currently or plan to use their device to track their fitness. Another 30% say they currently or plan to use it for health monitoring or phone calls.

Overall, the vast majority of users – 75% – say they’re very satisfied with their device.

That’s not so say manufacturers don’t have obstacles to overcome. Americans – both users and non-users – say they’re worried about privacy threats, health risks (through radiation), and hacking risks.

While some industry experts believe growth in wearables technology is slowing, others disagree. One estimate says the market for devices and related services will grow 143% to $34 billion by 2020. The market is still young, and there are plenty of opportunities for new products and services, particularly those tied to health and fitness. For example, as Baby Boomers age, seniors will make up a larger share of the U.S. population – up to 19 percent by 2030. Products such as smart clothes could help older Americans monitor their health and remember to take medications.

Another example is wearable technology from Fitbit that is aimed at improving nutrition and tracking virtual reality stationary bike workouts. The company announced three such products at the Consumer Electronic Show earlier this year. Its new nutrition site will create personalized food recommendations using metrics such as weight, body fat percentage, and calories burned. An integration with Peloton, a stationary bike company, will offer the ability to track a cyclist’s progress during live streaming workouts.

Applications such as these could infuse the category with greater excitement and renew interest among users and non-users alike.

 

This survey conducted by ReportLinker reached 535 online respondents representative of the US population. Interviews were conducted between January, 31st and February, 1st 2017.