Commentary

Wearables, The Christmas Fad That Will Disappear Again For Another Year

Are wearables just a fad we'll look back at with fond memories, like Pokemon trading cards or flared jeans -- OK, I realise these could well have come back in fashion in the last decade without me knowing, but you get the point?


The data would certainly suggest so as Apple Watch sales tank, dropping 71% year-on-year in the third quarter this year, according to IDC. TheTelegraph further makes the point that although Apple is predicting record sales this Christmas, it's a pretty low bar and would struggle to account for a twentieth of iPhones sold in the same period. It's a point backed up by Pebble selling to Fitbit. Even with the addition of wearable watch manufacturer, Fitbit's downward share hasn't improved its trajectory. It's ending the year at about a quarter of its January peak. 

The simple truth is that there are too many people making wearables for too few buyers. I remember crazy talk about how the smartphone has sucked lots of features and features into it and was now exhaling them. After become everyone's calendar, email device, watch and camera, smartphones were going to become more of a hub for wearables. Features would be spun out into wearables and the smartphone would be a hub that communicated with them.

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OK -- so a few tech-loving people have bought Apple watches and can get sports results and messages on their wrist, right next to the time and date. But tell me honestly, do you know many people who wear a smartwatch when they already probably own a watch and carry around a smartphone in their pocket all day? I can only think of one friend of mine who does this, and he has every gadget going. Out and about, it's pretty rare to see someone with a smartwatch, and their number pales into insignificance when you compare this to the number of smartphone users.

The same goes for fitness trackers. From what I've seen, everyone does the same thing. They buy or are gifted a tracker that they wear religiously for a few weeks and then one day it never makes it back on the wrist after charging. It is doomed thereafter to sit plugged into the wall until its owner realises its USB lead is needed to charge a Kindle. Then it really is all over. The thing is, after the first couple of weeks you know how many steps a walk around the local park takes and how many calories a 6 km jog on the treadmill burns. The device has kind of done its job and when your enthusiasm wanes, it's not great to be reminded that you haven't done you x thousand steps today, just like yesterday!

So there was never a killer app -- certainly not one offering longevity, which meant wearables were going to be more than a fad. Sure, people have no idea what to gift a loved one at Christmas, so expect to see sales rocket, interest peak in the fourth quarter and then dip back to more modest levels in the first quarter each year. So maybe not a fad that disappears, but more one that peaks each Christmas before going back to being akin to David Cameron's parting parliamentary words -- "I was the future once."

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