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Wearables-market observations from the wild

The technology still has a way to go, but it's still the fastest-growing category in consumer tech.

Apple Introduces New Products Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

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A little over a week ago, I attended the Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Thousands of people from all over the country showed up to eat great food and listen to great music. Being an overly observant student of humanity, I took particular interest in noting how many people I saw with a wearable tech product of some kind and, when possible, started a friendly conversation to see how they liked their chosen piece of wearable technology and what motivated them to purchase it. After all, crowds, and lines in particular, always present a great research opportunity. Here are a few observations.

Consumer sentiment toward wearables is positive, despite the negative narrative many try to project onto this category.

Wearables are certainly showing up in more places. Jazz Fest presented a unique and diverse opportunity and spotting a Fitbit, an Apple Watch or a Garmin was not uncommon. Our latest consumer smart survey on the wearable market yielded a 23 percent ownership of some wearable tech product. Fitbit remains the most-owned wearable tech brand in our consumer panel, and my observations of the crowd came to the same conclusion. Our data also suggests that Fitbit ownership skews more toward women than men, and that was the observation in the crowds. Beyond who owned which device, I found great value in something our consumer research panel could not yield — a chance to see these people in person. There was a distinct set of profiles I observed.

Fitness

The core driving factor for ownership of a wearable is still health and fitness. This is why most people buy one, and is the hook to drive wearable ownership, at least for the time being. However, there were two types of health profiles I observed and learned from conversations. I break wearable ownership into two categories because of this: Those who are already fit and regularly engage in some fitness activity like running, training, etc., and those who are not fit but are trying to be. A third category was slightly less common than the other two — people with an existing health condition using a piece of wearable tech (generally recommended by their doctor) to monitor their activity level and maintain specific health goals.

Within the general crowd, Fitbit is winning the fitness angle with those looking to maintain and those looking to get more fit. Garmin, on the other hand, has a clear lock on the hardcore fitness crowd. This group consists of serious long-distance runners, cyclists and people in dedicated athletic training. While Fitbit is the market-share winner and the brand of choice by general fitness consumers and those wanting to be fit, Garmin was the one serious fitness fanatics prefer.

Fashion

When it came to those consumers who wanted the fitness angle but also had a clear bend toward fashion (I could tell this by their choice of clothing and other accessories), Apple has this group locked up. From my conversations with Apple Watch owners, we have learned the Apple Watch skews toward those where fitness and fashion were priorities. A third priority was also found, but in much lower quantities than the previous two — those who had an affinity for technology also found that a driving motivator for buying an Apple Watch.

Fitness, fashion and tech seemed to be the common angles for Apple Watch owners as a combination, more so than any other wearable.

Combining these findings, along with our primary research on the wearable category, it is clear that the biggest single driver is health and fitness. That is the reason most people put something on their wrist, when before there was nothing in most cases. People want to stay healthy, and larger portions of consumers are looking to get healthy. This segment, I think, presents one of the biggest upsides for the category. As wearable tech helps us to become smarter about our own bodies, to understand what is good and not good for us and, most importantly, to develop healthy and life-changing habits, then I think this category begins to ramp to new levels.

What has changed is almost 20 percent of the market said they are more interested in a wearable than they were six months ago.


So where do we go from here? The technology has a way to go, but this is still the fastest-growing category in consumer tech, making it the one real bright spot, from a hardware standpoint, of the consumer electronics industry. I expect everyone in the market today is playing the long game, and I expect this to be a key topic area at Google’s developer conference in a few weeks, and at Apple’s next month.

Most consumers (69 percent from our research) still have no plans to buy a wearable this year. However, what has changed is almost 20 percent of the market said they are more interested in a wearable than they were six months ago, and nearly 30 percent of non-wearable-owning consumers today say they could see themselves owning one some day. So consumer sentiment is positive, despite the negative narrative many try to project onto this category.

I’m still bullish, but I’ve said from the start that this adoption cycle will be much slower and more gradual than other products of the past few years. I stand by both convictions.

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Ben Bajarin is a principal analyst at Creative Strategies Inc., an industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Reach him @BenBajarin.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.