Wearable shipments skyrocket, but user apathy still spells trouble for manufacturers

fitbit display

The Fitbit Force isn't as watch-like as the Basis B1, but it's still too much of a timepiece to wear next to an analog watch.

Credit: Image: Mike Homnick

While shipments of smartwatches and fitness bands have ballooned over the last year, not everyone’s falling in love with wearables quite yet.

Wearable shipments increased 684 percent from the first half of 2013 to the first half of this year, according to Canalys. Shipments of basic fitness bands reached roughly 4.4 million units, while smartwatch shipments hit roughly 1.8 million units.

Canalys said growth in fitness bands—led by Fitbit and Jawbone—was aided by stronger relationships with retailers internationally. Smartwatches, meanwhile, were practically non-existent a year ago, so their numbers could only go up. Samsung’s Gear series has since led the way in shipments, followed by Pebble and Sony’s SmartWatch. (Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G Watch, both of which run Android Wear, won’t be counted until Canalys’ next report.)

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But is anyone actually wearing these things? A recent survey by Endeavor Partners found that wearable makers are still struggling with attrition, as a third of users stopped wearing their smartwatches and fitness bands sometime after six months of purchase. That’s not as bad as Endeavor’s previous survey—which found that 44 percent of users were leaving their wearables behind—but it still shows how a significant segment of users can quickly lose interest.

Canalys alluded to this phenomenon in its own report, noting that Samsung in particular “must improve device sell-through” or else it will have to use deep discounts to move its inventory, though the research group didn’t provide any figures to back up this claim. “The challenge all vendors face is keeping consumers engaged with the devices, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Canalys analyst Chris Jones said in a statement.

toddham iwatch run 100313906 large Image: Todd Hamilton

College students have expressed interest in the iWatch, but no one knows whether it will look as slick as this concept rendering by Todd Hamilton.

Another recent survey by Chegg, a student resource website, found plenty of wearable skepticism among college students. Only 14 percent of those surveyed said they’d pay more than $150 for a wearable device, and 19 percent said they’re not interested at all. (On the bright side, at least for Apple, 48 percent of students said they might check out the rumored iWatch , even though no one has a clue what the device will look like.)

In other words, wearable shipments are growing because there are more devices with wider availability, but this is still just the beginning for wearables. As Canalys points out, many vendors are waiting to see what Apple will do, and the first movers will come under major pressure if the iWatch does materialize. Until then, a lot of people are still skeptical, and even some current users are letting their devices collect dust.

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