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Do you wear a wearable? By that I mean anything from the cute, plastic Fitbit Flex wristband you picked up a few years ago for $50 to a ceramic-cased Apple Watch Series 2 you got for Christmas that cost the giver $1,300. Maybe something running Google’s (GOOGL) Android Wear software? Or you’re a real watch fiend and you’ve gone even more upscale, say, for the almost $9,000 titanium Exospace B55 Connected from Breitling? No, not your style?
While I bet a solid proportion of Data Sheet readers do have a smart device strapped on, in the wider world, the wearable movement seems to have reached a plateau—or maybe even a dead end. The market trackers at Strategy Analytics say 21.1 million smartwatches shipped last year, barely more than 2015’s total of 20.8 million. Wednesday, we heard about slipping sales from Fitbit and Garmin. And we learned yesterday that, so far this year, the market has resembled a barbell. Growing sales of cheap bands from Xiaomi in Asia and higher-end watches from Apple offset massively lower tracker sales from Fitbit, Garmin (GRMN), and others stuck in the middle. Net-net, the market grew a mediocre 8%.
The key question for the future, of course, is one of utility. How truly useful is a smartwatch or tracker? And does it retain that usefulness after the novelty wears off?
I used to wear a standard watch every day and for the past few years I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch (though also with experimental periods of various Fitbits and a Samsung Gear). I appreciate some of the little bits of info I receive with just a flick of the wrist, as well as the tracking and prompts for my exercising. And the app called Round—it reminds me which medication to take when—is, almost literally, a lifesaver. And, yes, I like the way it looks with my daily choice of strap options. But I know not everyone wants more interruptions, and the battery life remains pathetic.
Apple (AAPL), Fitbit (FIT) and their competitors are hard at work on making better, thinner, more capable watches and so maybe the market does keep growing. But as I was reading last week about the Wisconsin company that was seeking employee volunteers for an embedded smart chip, I thought maybe the future won’t be on the wrist. Some combination of smart chips, contact lenses or glasses, projections of augmented reality, and smart devices scattered around the home could make smartwatches—and maybe even smartphones—seem like quaint relics. But I’ll still miss my rainbow striped nylon watch band.