What’s the short term trajectory for fitness wearables? Down. Analyst Gartner is projecting a dip in overall shipments next year, owing to overlapping functionality between different types of fitness wearables and because smartwatches are eating into their functionality (while also offering more in the way of communications features).
But the analyst expects the fitness wearables category to bounce back in 2016 because of better, more versatile designs and lower cost displays. In other words, fitness devices are going to up their game.
In a global forecast on fitness wearables, the analyst projects shipments will reach 68.1 million units in 2015, down from 70 million in 2014, as a larger proportion of buyers opt for smartwatches instead (it estimates that half of people considering buying a smart wristband will purchase a smartwatch instead next year — which is, of course, when Apple is expected to launch into the space). But by 2016 it sees shipments bouncing back — to total 91.3 million units.
Gartner segments the fitness wearables category into five main form factors: smart wristbands, sports watches, other fitness monitors, heart rate monitor chest straps, and smart garments.
While smart wristbands and other fitness monitors are currently the most popular form factors, the analyst identifies the latter emergent category as having the “greatest potential for growth” being as it’s emerging from the testing phase. It’s projecting shipments here will grow from practically nothing (0.1 million units) in 2014, to 26 million in 2016.
Gartner adds that it expects continued overlap in functionality between smart wrist bands and smartwatches, but sees fitness bands and other fitness monitors carving out a non-retail niche in the future — by being increasingly offered by gyms, wellness providers, insurance providers, weight loss clinics and employers, sometimes at subsidised prices or for free. It said it expects a quarter of these fitness devices to be sold through non-retail channels between 2018 and 2020.
“These companies will serve as a growing distribution channel for device manufacturers,” it adds. “The new channels also result from fitness monitors being integrated into employee badges or identification bracelets for access control. Business-to-consumer companies will have rewards or gamification linked to the use of wearables as a way of keeping customers engaged with their brands.”
A key driver for fitness wearables to continue to proliferate, according to Gartner, are the big funding initiatives from the likes of Apple (HealthKit), Google (Google Fit), Samsung (S.A.M.I.), and others, which will allow consumers to integrate data from multiple wearables into a single account where it can be analyzed and yield useful insights for the wearer.