Back in October 2014, PwC released a formative study into the rising tide of wearable technology in the United States. Those were heady days for the wearables industry: the Apple Watch had been announced a month earlier, fitness devices were far and away the dominant subcategory, and consumer concerns revolved around invasions of privacy and vulnerability to security breaches.
Since that first report, the wearables industry has evolved in leaps and bounds. The Apple Watch launched in April 2015, selling twice as many units in its first year compared to the first iPhone. Fitness trackers, while still the dominant tranche of wearables, began to have their commanding lead eroded by smartwatches. Probably due in no small part to the Apple Watch. Meanwhile, consumer sentiment began to shift, moving away from abstract fears about privacy or security and towards more tangible issues such as price and usability.
The uptake of wearables by the public has been impressive. Almost half of survey respondents owned at least one device (49%), representing a rise of 21% compared to 2014. These are encouraging numbers, but what’s particularly fascinating is how a further 36% revealed they own more than one wearable device. This indicates room for significantly more device saturation per user compared to other categories such as smartphones (it should be mentioned, however, that many respondents considered smartphones a wearable device).
While health remained a key driver for wearables adoption, one of the more surprising results of the study was the perceived role of wearables in social interaction. Despite multiple hand-wringing editorials on the topic of ‘smartwatch etiquette’ over the past 18 months, survey respondents increasingly think wearable technology will aid social interaction. From 2014 to 2016, the number of individuals saying daily use of wearable tech would increase social interaction more than tripled from 10% to 33%.
Although Wearable Life paints an overwhelmingly positive picture for adoption and changing consumer attitudes, the wearable statistics show a whole slew of challenges still befall the category. One is so-called ‘stickiness’. For a dominant 80% of survey respondents (and Millennials in particular), incentives such as money or loyalty points would be required to encourage daily use. Novelty, it seems, is not enough.
This lack of commitment carries over to current rates of usage: all device subcategories have shown significant declines over time. Daily wear of smartglasses has dropped the least (16%) while the appeal of smartclothes waned faster than all else (33% drop). Meanwhile, the more mainstream fitness and smartwatch device categories registered 18% and 22% decreases in daily wear, respectively.
While Millennials may need an extra sweetener to keep their devices strapped on, parents showed impressive signs of sustained adoption. Adults with at least one child in the household were twice as likely as non-parents to own one or more wearable device. For parents, key motivators were health (85%), technology proficiency (80%) and parenting and productivity (77% apiece).
For the first time, Wearable Life put the spotlight on wearable technology in other countries, including Australia. In a separate study conducted in April 2016, Australians were surveyed on their own attitudes and usage of wearable technology. The results make for an interesting comparison to our American counterparts.
Of the 500 Australians surveyed, 55% owned a wearable device, a symbolic majority compared to the 49% in the US. Of these wearable-toting Aussies, 48% sported a fitness band while 34% went for a smartwatch. These ratios are fairly consistent with the US, with 45% and 27% opting for fitness bands and smartwatches, respectively. The two nations also agreed on the barriers to buying a wearable device: price was king, followed by lack of a daily use-case or relevance, with concerns about privacy coming in last – a huge shift compared to the 2014 study’s emphasis on security.
Ultimately, the biggest difference between Australian and US consumers is in which wearable they are more likely to purchase sometime in the future. For Australians, smartwatches are a slightly more compelling prospect. The reverse is true for Americans, 4% more are looking to buy a fitness band than a smartwatch.
In the end, the wearable statistics show the future of each device will hang on an ability to develop a sense of indispensability among users. This will happen eventually, particularly as battery life extends, processing power increases, and operating systems are better refined to suit consumer preferences (which, until now, have been mostly unknown).
However, as it currently stands, wearable devices do not pass the all-important ‘turnaround test’ – the urge to return home to fetch it when you’ve realised you’ve forgotten it. The smartphone managed to infiltrate this exclusive club very quickly. For wearables, it may yet take a while longer.
All graphics in this article reflect US survey figures.
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