PwC: 1 in 5 Americans owns a wearable, 1 in 10 wears them daily

By Jonah Comstock
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PwC wearable dataTwo new reports from PricewaterhouseCoopers and its Health Research Institute on the present and future of wearables, including healthcare wearables, show that Americans are optimistic about the future of wearable technology, but less enthusiastic about the technology as it exists now. Health and fitness wearables still lead the category when it comes to consumer interest, and, the data suggests, employers and insurers could kickstart the trend by footing the bill for these devices.

"Consumers recognize enormous potential in the emerging category—but right now, they are skeptical that wearable technology can deliver on that potential," PwC writes in 'The Wearable Future.' "Simply put, the existing marketplace isn’t executing the 'wow' factor that comes with all the hype."

PwC surveyed 1,000 US consumers across demographic lines for the reports, asking questions about wearable use and adoption, their willingness to use different devices in different contexts, and their concerns about wearable technology.

Adoption of some kind of wearable technology is at about 21 percent, according to the survey -- the same percent that owned a tablet in 2012. Of those who own a wearable device, 2 percent no longer wear it, 2 percent wear it a few times a month, 7 percent wear it a few times a week, and 10 percent wear it every day. 

"Who are these early adopters? Our data shows that current wearable users make up 21 percent of the population—a subset that is more affluent, more tech savvy and more educated than the general population at large," the report states. "Mainstream America, however, is well aware of what’s out there—nearly 80 percent say they are familiar with at least one wearable device on the market today."

Millenials are 55 percent more likely to own wearable technology than adults 35 and over. Fifty-one percent of Millenials said they're likely to purchase a fitness band in the next year (compared to 45 percent of general consumers) and 40 percent said they were likely to buy a smartwatch (compared to 35 percent of the general population).

Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they believe their company should fund wearable technology for employees. They were asked, for each type of wearable, whether they would adopt the technology if it cost them $100 and if they would use it if they got it for free from their employer. For smartwatches, 72 percent of consumers would use one if their employer paid for it, but only 42 percent would pay the $100. For fitness bands, 63 percent would use them from their employer, but only 38 percent would pay. For smart glasses, the breakdown was 51 percent and 27 percent.

In addition, 76 percent of consumers said they would not need a wearable to replace existing technology in order to adopt it. Thirty-six percent said they didn't think they would actually use a fitness band, and the number was the same for a smartwatch. Forty percent don't think they'll use smart clothing.

The survey found that the top three pieces of information consumers want from wearables are health-related: 77 percent want wearables to help them exercise better, 75 percent want them to collect and track medical information, and 67 percent want wearables to help them eat better. Additionally, 81 percent of millenials want technology to tell them about their exercise and 71 percent want to know about dietary and medical information.

Consumers were asked to make broad predictions about how wearables will change the world, and those surveyed made both positive and negative predictions around health and wellness topics. On the positive side, 56 percent said wearable technology would improve our lifespans by 10 years, 42 percent predicted a dramatic improvement in average athletic ability, and 46 percent predicted obesity rates would decrease. But the drawbacks were much more widely expected: 86 percent said wearable technology would make users vulnerable to security breaches, 82 percent feared it would invade their privacy, and 72 percent said wearable tech would hurt our ability to relate to each other.

You can check out the full reports, "Health Wearables: The Early Days" and "The Wearable Future," here.