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Cash-strapped buyers passing on smartwatches in favor of cheap fitness trackers

Apple Watch sales are still going strong, but Wear OS, Fitbit, and Samsung watches have taken a blow in the pandemic.

Published onSeptember 4, 2020

samsung galaxy watch 3 review all apps
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
  • North American smartwatch shipments in 2020 slowed as wearable buyers have shifted toward cheap fitness trackers during the pandemic.
  • Watches featuring Wear OS, and watches from Fitbit and Samsung have been struggling.
  • Apple Watch Series 3 shipments have been on the rise, however.

Many people are buying wearables to keep track of their fitness routines during 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, but many of them aren’t splurging on smartwatches. Instead, they’re going for the low-end activity trackers. This is a bit of a reversal, as that market was previously on the decline.

Canalys researchers have determined that North American wearable device shipments grew 10% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020, but that it was primarily due to low-priced fitness trackers they could afford on a pandemic-influenced budget, particularly ones below $50. Fitbit may have fared better than most as its paid service helped those who couldn’t get training at gyms.

That wasn’t great news for most smartwatch makers, however. Fitbit and Samsung were partly hurt as they cleared out inventory before the Sense and Galaxy Watch 3 arrived. Google’s Wear OS also took a sharp blow as stores closed and companies got ready for new watches using the much-improved Snapdragon Wear 4100.

North American smartwatch shipments in 2020

smartwatch and fitness tracker shipments q2 2020 canalys
Jon Fingas / Android Authority

It wasn’t bad news for everyone. Apple Watch shipments were still going strong, but the star of the show wasn’t the Series 5. While the high-end model was still Apple’s most popular, it was the $199 Series 3 that saw shipments grow 30% compared to the same time a year earlier. Price is clearly a key factor, and Apple may be well-positioned with a new low-cost Watch reportedly coming this fall.

Read more: The best smartwatches you can buy

Whether or not this continues isn’t certain. All the major companies are focused on 2021, Canalys said, but that doesn’t necessarily mean smartwatches will struggle. New models from Apple, Fitbit, Samsung, and others could lead to spikes. Canalys also noted that devices with “advanced health tracking” may stand out more versus “casual” trackers. Smartwatches might enjoy a resurgence, then, especially as people are worried about blood oxygen levels and other possible signs of COVID-19 infections.

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