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They are the gadgets that have set the nation counting. Now, latest research from Mintel on wearable technology finds step-obsessed Brits have helped drive sales of smartwatches and fitness bands to an estimated four million devices in 2017, up 18% on 2016. Highlighting the popularity of these gadgets, a step-loving one in five (20%) Brits report using wearable technology to measure their steps.

As the Wearable Technology Show opens its doors today (Tuesday 13th March), Mintel research also reveals that although sales of fitness trackers still have the edge over smartwatches, the gap is closing. Indeed, between 2016-17 the smartwatch sector experienced a greater sales increase, up 23% on 2016, with an estimated 1.96 million devices sold in 2017. Meanwhile, sales of fitness trackers increased 16% over the same period with an estimated 1.99 million devices sold in 2017.

While ownership of smartphones (82%) and tablets (58%) has remained largely stable throughout 2016-17, that of smartwatches has steadily risen to its current 9% level, up from just 2% in 2014. Meanwhile, ownership of fitness bands stands at 16%, up from 7% in 2015.

The overall merits of wearable technology are highlighted by the fact that 33% of all Brits believe wearable technology will make their lives better.

Andrew Moss, Technology Analyst at Mintel said:

“The rapid improvements in the functionality of wearable technology have increased the appeal of these devices to a much broader market. Increasingly presenting these devices as fashion pieces should also help to boost their popularity with less technology-savvy consumers. Some manufacturers are even willing to concede some functionality to produce devices that follow the traditional circular design of wristwatches.”

Smartwatch tops wearable technology wishlist

Smartwatches top the list of wearable technology Brits would consider purchasing, though there is not much in it between the three highest choices. Almost a third (32%) of Brits say they would purchase a smartwatch, compared to 29% who say the same about fitness bands/sports watches, and 27% who would consider a clip-on fitness/activity tracker.

Beyond the steps, around a quarter (24%) of Brits say they would consider purchasing a wearable camera, while a health conscious 22% are open to buying a wearable heart rate monitor. Meanwhile, just over one in five (21%) Brits is interested in combining fashion and technology with smart jewellery, while nearly the same (19%) are interested in smart clothing.

“Fitness tracker growth is estimated to have slowed as consumers begin to demand more functionality from their devices. In contrast, smartwatch sales are estimated to have grown in part due to the entry of fashion brands into the smartwatch market. Looking ahead, smartwatch ownership is likely to overtake basic fitness trackers.” Andrew added.

Helicopter parents set to fuel future sales

Just under two in five (38%) consumers say they are interested in using wearable technology for health and wellness monitoring, followed by 27% for sports and training monitoring and 21% for security and access control. Meanwhile, one in five (20%) Brits would be interested in using technology to control smart home devices and 19% for mobile payments.

Bringing helicopter parenting to a new level, 38% of parents of under-16s are interested in devices which monitor and track kids, including location and sleep monitoring.

“Technology providers have identified children as a valuable demographic for wearable technology, where including a cellular signal can provide a smartphone-like device with functionality that can be controlled by the parent. The appeal of such devices is that parents can pre-programme emergency contacts, meaning they do not need to worry about their child contacting strangers or being tracked by someone other than them. The consequence is peace of mind for the parent, a device the child will enjoy and a new market in which wearable devices can grow.” Continues Andrew.

Ready to leave the smartphone at home?

Almost three in ten (28%) consumers support leaving a smartphone at home if a smartwatch could offer the same functionality, such as calls, messaging, music and websearch. This figure increases to 36% of 16-24-year-olds and 40% of 25-34-year-olds.

A specific case for replacing smartphones with connected smartwatches is during sports and fitness, with 37% of consumers interested in using wearables to track these activities saying they’d consider leaving their house with just a smartwatch. However, 24% of consumers who aren’t interested in electronic sports tracking would still consider this option.

Whether consumers will actually leave their phone at home whilst out and about, remains to be seen. Smartphones are now more commonly used than desktop or laptop computers for many digital activities, so connected smartwatches must seamlessly offer the smartphone functions most important to consumers.” Concludes Andrew.

Research was carried out among 2,000 internet users aged 16+ in September 2017.

Press copies of Wearable Technology 2017 UK report and interviews with Andrew Moss, Technology Analyst, are available on request from the press office.