Is a Big Shift from Fitness Trackers to Smartwatches Underway?

For years, wrist-based fitness trackers seemed to hold their own against smartwatches, at least in terms of market share. But according to new data from research firm IDC, it seems that smartwatches are beginning to pick up more momentum.

IDC estimates that worldwide shipments of wearable devices grew 1.2 percent during the first quarter of this year, hitting a grand total of 25.1 million units. That miniscule rise is mostly due to a 9.2 percent dip in shipments of “basic” wearables such as fitness trackers. Meanwhile, smartwatch shipments grew 28.4 percent.

“With the move towards smarter devices, we’re also starting to see hints of where the wearables market is headed,” Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, wrote in a statement accompanying the data. “Additional sensors, years of underlying data, and improved algorithms are allowing pillars of the industry like Fitbit and Apple to help identify diseases and other health irregularities. Meanwhile, roughly one third of all wearables included cellular connectivity this quarter, which has allowed new use-cases to emerge.”

Apple led the market in first-quarter shipment volume, followed by Xiaomi, Fitbit, Huawei, and Garmin. At its WWDC conference this week, Apple unveiled watchOS 5, the latest version of its smartwatch operating system, with boosted Siri integration and even a “walkie-talkie” feature that allows two Apple Watch wearers to speak to one another.

If the wearables market is indeed shifting to smartwatches, that could mean big things for developers and other tech pros interested in the category. If smartwatches become a ubiquitous device—or at least a more common one—it could create bountiful opportunities for monetization; while fitness trackers have their fans, the tiny (or nonexistent) screens limit what developers can do with them. If you’re interested in building apps for watchOS, Apple has a variety of tools available; there’s also an SDK for Wear OS, Google’s smartwatch platform, and Fitbit.

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