Over the last year, ownership of fitness trackers among American adults went largely unchanged. A slight uptick in ownership occurred just this month — perhaps a result of holiday gift-giving — which brings overall ownership to a monthly aggregate of 37%.

One could argue the smartwatch is a slightly better looking, possibly more talented cousin of the fitness tracker. Depending on what someone is looking for, smartwatches could be considered more useful than fitness trackers given that they are capable of doing so much more: productivity and communication in addition to fitness and health tracking.

Smartwatch ownership over the last year looked like it was trending upward before dropping back down to its baseline at the end of 2020. The monthly aggregate of smartwatch ownership is one-quarter of aware U.S. adults.

Intent is the number to watch. Not only is intent to own a smartwatch currently greater than intent to own a fitness tracker (8% compared to 5%), but also 65% of respondents to a recent CivicScience survey said they would prefer a smartwatch over a fitness or health tracker.

CivicScience tracking does not show fitness trackers rapidly approaching obsolescence, but polling consumers on their preferred smartwatch brand did seem to make more sense, especially since many brands now make both of the wearable devices. 

Among the brands studied, smartwatches made by Fitbit and Apple were the most popular (21% and 20% of U.S. adults, respectively). While the original industry leader, Fitbit smartwatch owners have the greatest percentage of dissatisfied users, while Apple and Samsung had the greater numbers of smartwatch intenders.

Wearables like smartwatches and fitness trackers need to be ‘always on’ in order to provide accurate data to users. Fitness and health trackers in particular need to be constantly collecting data, but someone using a smartwatch to check text messages could do so without wearing it if necessary. We see this reflected in the following data:

Owners of fitness bands unplug from their tech 18% less often than owners of smartwatches.

While ownership of smartwatches and fitness bands was stagnant in most of 2020, the rate of U.S. consumers unplugging from technology ballooned to 70% — the highest it has been in years. But around August this past year, people began reporting more and more that they were almost never unplugging from devices.

Whether people like it or not, the year 2020 increased the amount of time spent with devices for a lot of consumers. The question now seems to be if people will grow more comfortable being constantly in sync (and unplugging less and less), or will they start looking for connectivity  breaks even more than they had before? CivicScience will continue to monitor sentiment around wearable technology and the rate consumers are staying connected or choosing to unplug.