In 2020, Wearables Demand Grew Amidst A Pandemic

A former smartwatch pessimist weighs in on his purchase

Antony Terence
Mar 17 · 4 min read
Wearable smartwatch demand 2020 pandemic
Source: Image created by the author on Canva.

It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic cut down on activities spent outside the confines of our homes. From leisure activities and sports to 9-to-5 jobs, a significant chunk of our lives was turned virtual in the span of a few weeks. But what is surprising is that the wearables market has grown considerably at a time when the daily commute no longer happens daily.

To make things clear, wearables don’t just mean smartwatches. It refers to everything from fitness trackers and smartwatches to wireless earphones. According to a report by IDC, the wearables market has grown by over 28 percent. The growth spurt amidst these circumstances is significant and paints an interesting trajectory for the future.

“In-home fitness programs are quickly becoming a crucial component of the wearables offering for many companies. Beyond that, the proliferation of health sensors such as skin temperature, ECG, and heart rate tracking are allowing users and health professionals to better understand the onset and tracking of diseases.”
- Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at IDC

One can argue that health has now barraged its way to the forefront of consumers’ minds today. With immunity systems and fitness becoming more relevant than ever, it does lend credibility to the idea that people would consider investing in their bodies. Perhaps it was a move to duct tape the dam of doubt that had come crashing once the pandemic gripped our cities. But this notion is questioned by the fact that fitness wristband shipments dropped by 17.8 percent last quarter. The rise in shipments was led not by fitness trackers but by smartwatches and earphones.

Wearable smartwatch demand 2020 pandemic report
Worldwide Wearables Shipment in 2020. Source: IDC.

The rise of the smartwatch

To be frank, I was among the naysayers when it came to smartwatches. While I admired their capabilities when it came to fitness tracking, I found their degree of connectivity a tad excessive. As a device meant to remain on your wrist, I needed it to tell me the time when I wanted to and nothing else. I didn’t need constant reminders, calls, and WhatsApp notifications getting in the way of my work. But clearly, there was more to them than what met the eye.

In 2020, I bit the bullet and got myself a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2. The first thing I did was disable notifications from my phone (thank goodness). While I did little more than check the time at first, I soon began to warm up to the round little thing. A metal strap later, gone was the thought that the Active 2 was a fitness tracker masquerading as a smartwatch.

The watch’s range of customization options (which I found silly at first) soon caught my fancy. Despite caring little about fashion and color combinations, I soon began to adjust my watch face based on the occasion and my gear. Fitness reminders helped me get off my desk every now and then for a jog (essential both as a student and at work). I couldn’t help but grin when the watch began tracking my gym workouts without me asking it to. It even logged workout types, activity levels, and sleep quality. While I loathed the 3-day battery life of the watch, I felt incomplete as it sat on its wireless charger. The smartwatch soon became a valuable addition to my pandemic-stricken routine.

Smartwatch sales have more than doubled in the US over the past four years, meaning that this isn’t a new phenomenon. And they continued to grow well into 2020 despite the decline of fitness trackers. Perhaps, just as before, people now want a device that can do several things at once.

Samsung active 2 watch Wearable smartwatch demand 2020 pandemic
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active 2 makes for quite the fashion statement. Source: Samsung Media.

While personalized healthcare does come with privacy concerns, smartwatches have yet to receive any backlash for the same. And cost is no longer a concern, with smartwatches dropping under the $100 barrier without skipping essential features. If that’s still out of your budget, fitness trackers pretending to be smartwatches can serve the same purpose at a lower price. What these $50 gizmos lack in finesse and style is compensated by their battery life and affordability. For instance, Xiaomi’s Mi 5 Band is a steal at 35$ (in the Indian subcontinent).

The smartwatch is here to stay. If 2020 is any indication, fitness trackers might be pushed to the position of an entry-level smartwatch. Fitness features like ECG and skin temperature detection were once among the key reasons to invest in a pricey smart wearable. Today, they’ve trickled into mainstream devices that aren’t as heavy on the wallet as they used to be. The future might just be strapped to your wrist. Take it from a former critic.

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Antony Terence

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I write on everything from videogames to fictional narratives. Yes, that includes to-do lists. Words in SUPERJUMP, The Startup, Writing Cooperative, and more.

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