The words “wearable technology” might make people think of smartwatches or perhaps Google Glass, but for all their geek chic glamour, it’s the less expensive and typically less functional “smartband” product that is selling better compared with the smartwatch. There are several reasons for this, such as the fact that the smartband is an easier and cheaper product for customers that aren’t sure if they want to invest a considerable sum of money into an emerging technology. Because smartbands typically do less, they often come with a less sophisticated operating system and lesser internal hardware – which means they have a multi-day battery life, whereas the perception (and in the majority of cases, the reality) is that most smartwatches do not make it to the second day without needing a recharge. For a customer who does not want to be compelled into recharging another device on a daily basis, this is an attractive lure.
According to research firm IDC in 2015, 78 million wearable devices were shipped, which compares with under 30 million for 2014. Fitbit accounted for around 21 million devices sold, around 27% of the market. Xiaomi and Apple sold around 12 million each, Garmin sold 3.3 million and Samsung sold 3.1 million. These sales figures do not differentiate between the different products that each manufacturer sells – Fitbit’s portfolio includes the relatively simple sensor-in-a-band Fitbit Flex through smartbands to full blown smartwatch products. Apple and Xiaomi have a much narrow family of devices. Fitbit has relatively recently launched the Alta smartband with changeable bands made from different materials, and Xiaomi is preparing the Mi Band 2, which will include a LED display (something the original device lacked). One of the reasons why Fitbit products have sold well is because the devices are compatible with Android, iOS and Windows Phone: Fitbit do not restrict customers to one operating system platform or another.
Samsung, however, has seemingly been wrong-footed in the wearable market. The company has released a number of smartwatch designs over the years but many of these have been restricted by only being compatible with their own smartphones. In early May, Samsung released the Charm, a smartband designed as a bracelet with the ability to notify the wearer of incoming calls, text messages and emails. The Charm can also be linked to the Samsung S Health application; but Samsung have made the S Health service available for all Android devices. We also understand that Samsung are preparing to release the Gear Fit 2, a more advanced smartband with a bias towards health and activity monitoring. The Gear Fit 2 appears to be tailored towards Samsung Galaxy smartphone customers, but it appears that Samsung now understand that allowing customers with other devices is a much better experience than restricting customers to their own products.