Home Blog Why Activity Trackers Are Here To Stay
Jun 18, 2015

The One-trick Pony Lives On

Subscribe to our blog

“My, that’s a large phone that you have,” said the lady. No, I wasn’t in a bar and it wasn’t a pick-up line. It wasn’t even aimed at me, but rather at my daughter who was toting around a gigantic Windows phone. Or as I like to think of it, her portable TV, since all she really uses it for is Netflix.

The scene was a local sculpture exhibit opening, full of people sipping wine while admiring chunks of artfully-place rock and iron. The lady – probably in her late 60s – was taking a break from the excitement. She pulled out her own phone to compare to my daughter’s: it was a three-year old flip phone that had cost her all of $9.99 at a local retailer. She liked it; a lot. And she saw no reason to spend more money on a smartphone.

And she is not alone. While it’s easy to assume that everyone has a smartphone now,the sturdy little feature phone still commands roughly 30 percent of the installed base of phones in the U.S. That’s not bad for a one-trick pony that “just” makes calls and the occasional text message.

The feature phone’s continuing existence is an important reminder that not everyone wants the new shiny toy, or technology trend. Take the wearables market, for example; the smartwatch is often compared to the smartphone, and the activity tracker is dismissed as being the “feature phone” of wearable technology, doomed to oblivion over the next couple of years. But just as with the phone, there’s plenty of room for an activity tracker to thrive in the coming years: heck, owning 30 percent of the space is still a good, and healthy share even if the phone comparison is a fair one. And I’m not actually convinced that it is.

Not everyone needs the full capabilities of a smartwatch; not everyone wants to spend that much money; not everyone wants to charge the device every night; and not everyone really wants to go back to wearing a watch-sized item on their wrist. As such, while the activity tracker space does face some very stiff competition in the coming years, there’s still plenty of opportunity to innovate and expand.

We are already seeing some of this key innovation with activity trackers adding notification capabilities (phone calls, texts, and even emails) that are currently the core of the use case for the smartwatch. We are also starting to see some added capabilities that help the activity tracker to differentiate by being a standalone device, rather than always needing a smartphone nearby. For example, the upcoming Under Armour/HTC device, the “Grip,” includes GPS in an activity tracker form factor, meaning that you can leave your phone at home and still map your run/ride or whatever.

And this is all a good thing, as there has been a relative lack of innovation among activity trackers over the last few years. Having come out guns a-blazing a few years ago, the tracker has settled into a sedate market where it is used primarily for tracking walking steps, rather than anything more athletic. While this certainly helped drive the device into a mass-market, it has opened the category to increased competition, especially from smartwatches.

Speaking of which, as my daughter’s new friend ran out of wonderful things to say about her feature phone, she added: “I might get one of those smartwatches though. Can you imagine how useful it would be to get your email on your wrist?” I looked at her, and the feature phone she loved so much, and didn’t really know where to start with the explanation that she would a) need to buy a smartphone that she currently doesn’t want and b) having bought the smartphone, she wouldn’t actually need the watch because she would already be getting her email on her phone... It was all going to take quite some time to explain; so instead I grabbed my daughter, and professed a new-found interest in the rocks and iron around me.



Stay current in your industry
SUBSCRIBE

Related Blog Posts

Tagged: Connected Intelligence


Health Tracking Data at the Core of Google’s Fitbit Wearables Push
Health Tracking Data at the Core of Google’s Fitbit Wearables Push

NPD Analyst, Weston Henderek, shares his take on Google’s announcement that it has agreed to buy Fitbit for $2.1 billion.

The New Pixel 4 - Is Google Ready to Take on the Mobile Goliaths?
The New Pixel 4 - Is Google Ready to Take on the Mobile Goliaths?

This week Google launched its much-anticipated flagship smartphone, the Pixel 4. The previous Pixel iterations were unable to reach the masses, but will this new successor give Google the spot it deserves in the ranks?

Teetering On The Edge Of Innovation
Teetering On The Edge Of Innovation

In the CE space there seems to be a lack of compelling innovation, says Eddie Hold, President of NPD's Connected Intelligence. Phone and smartwatch launches have become small iterative enhancements rather than substantial innovations, while IFA, was a muted affair. So what will help tech reinvigorate the market?

IFA Goes Mobile
IFA Goes Mobile

IFA hasn’t historically received much attention from the mobile world, but that’s been changing as smartphone vendors shift their focus from overly mature markets like the U.S. to EMEA markets where there are still growth opportunities. Industry analyst, Brad Akyuz, highlights some of the mobile announcements from this year’s show.

Newsletter

Subscribe and get key market trends and insights relevant to your industry each month.

We will not sell your information. View privacy notice.

Follow Us

© The NPD Group, Inc.