Are fitness trackers losing their appeal?

Wearable devices see a very high abandonment rate as their owners fail to find a use for them or simply get bored, according to a new survey from Gartner. Almost a third of smartwatches (29%) and fitness trackers (30%) are left unused by their owners.

The researcher spoke to nearly 10,000 consumers from the US, UK and Australia during the summer about their attitudes towards wearables as well as purchasing behaviours around smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR glasses.

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The key finding was that abandonment happens because consumers don’t find their devices as useful as they expected, because they get bored with them (which also suggests the devices aren’t as useful as they could be) or because they broke.

“Dropout from device usage is a serious problem for the industry,” said Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner. “The abandonment rate is quite high relative to the usage rate. To offer a compelling enough value proposition, the uses for wearable devices need to be distinct from what smartphones typically provide. Wearables makers need to engage users with incentives and gamification.”

While that is depressing news for the industry, it’s undeniable that there is still huge growth potential with smartwatch adoption still only at 10% while fitness trackers are at 19%, or only at the “early mainstream” stage. VR glasses are at only 8% (in terms of people who have used them rather than total ownership) but analysts have said that 2017 could see a surge in uptake.

Another gripe for wearables users was price with them being seen as too expensive relative to their usefulness, while design was also found to be frequently unappealing. This is a particular problem for fitness trackers, which is interesting given that these devices are only worn for a short period of time compared to smartwatches.

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The US is the largest of the three markets in terms of uptake of smartwatches with a 12% adoption rate, while the UK is at 9% and Australia at 7%. However, there is a 23% uptake rate of fitness trackers in the US, with Australia on 19% and the UK at 15%.

Smartwatch usage peaks among people aged below 45 and 58% of smartwatch owners use it every day while 33% use it several times a week. But many in this age group won’t buy a fitness tracker as they see their smartphone as a hub that can do everything they need.

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