Juniper: Apple Watch leads wearable pack as fitness bands, smartwatches converge

By Jonah Comstock
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The wearable space is evolving to the point where the difference between smartwatches and fitness trackers will be one of branding and aesthetics, rather than functionality, according to a new report from Juniper Research.

"The Gear Fit and several other more recent models of fitness wearable like the Fitbit Charge HR and Surge, as well as the Razer Nabu, offer notification services for calls and texts as well as fitness-based functions, giving the ability, in some cases, to answer calls from the wrist," Juniper writes in an accompanying whitepaper. "This is due to the miniaturisation of components enabling their insertion into devices with minimal impact on their aesthetic. Depending on the parent brand, this allows devices either to be a positioned as watch with fitness tracking capability, or a fitness tracker with notification capability, even if the underlying functionality is ultimately identical."

Juniper argues that this convergence is happening because the use case for smartwatches is still unclear, and the more advanced features don't deliver on the promise of freeing people from their devices, instead merely shifting their attention from one screen to another. Juniper found that 30 percent of consumers who said they didn't plan to buy a smartwatch attributed that sentiment to not thinking they would use the device if they owned it.

"This has a knock-on effect on price expectations," the research firm writes. "More than 50 percent of those not looking to buy do not want to pay more than $99 for a wearable, while on average even those inclined to purchase do not want to pay more than $175. The current price and limited functions are deterring those who might consider buying a wearable. Consumers buying the devices are probably doing so because they like technology, rather than for any other reason."

That said, the Apple Watch continues to do well in the smartwatch field. Juniper reports that Apple Watch accounted for more than 50 percent of all smartwatch shipments in 2015, despite only launching at the end of April. Android Wear watches only approached 10 percent of Apple's shipment volume. 

Number of apps might account for the difference, Juniper posited. While the Apple Watch provides 10,000 app options, Android Wear only has about 4,000. Samsung's Tizen operating system has even fewer.