Last week after a day jumping in and out of briefings and meetings at IFA, I spotted someone @ing our Twitter account with an image showing the best selling smartwatches from the second quarter of 2018. The data was taken from a report produced by analyst firm Counterpoint Research. Keeping in mind that Apple doesn't share details on smartwatch sales, the report threw up some interesting data.
The top five best selling smartwatches, according to Counterpoint, had Apple at number 1, but it wasn't the Watch Series 3. It was the Series 1. That was followed up by the Fitbit Versa, Amazfit Bip, then the Watch Series 3, finishing up with the Fitbit Ionic in fifth spot.
Essential reading: The best smartwatches to buy
Over the weekend I had a conversation with someone who currently owns a Watch Series 2, and I mentioned that the Series 1 was apparently still selling well. His response was that he wasn't at all surprised to hear that. I asked him why, and he said not everyone cares about having GPS or LTE. In his words, "I think what people really want is the notifications and the fitness tracking features and that's about it."
We know from previous surveys that people want smartwatches to be cheaper and while, when we talk about smartphones, $80 to $100 might not seem like a big issue, we have to remember these are accessories. The difference between a Series 1 and a Series 3 might simply count out millions of people when they consider what they're actually looking for in a smartwatch.
Of that top five, three of those smartwatches feature GPS (Series 3, Ionic and Bip). All of them have heart rate monitors and three are able to track your swimming. So there's a strong sporty feel to that list, but with Series 1 the least sporty of those watches on top, it opens up that debate once again of what a smartwatch should do or be good at.
As we've seen with Samsung's new Galaxy Watch and Fitbit's entry into the smartwatch space, there has been a big emphasis on health and fitness. The Galaxy Watch has more workout modes and improved sleep tracking. All of the Fossil Group's smartwatches including the Skagen Falster 2 now include GPS and heart rate monitors (apparently one of the most asked for features according to a Fossil representative), but are these companies focusing on the right things?
When I think about the strengths of Apple's Watch platform I immediately think of notifications, fitness tracking and just a general ease of use now that watchOS updates have improved that over time. Don't get me wrong, it's great to be able to track my running or swimming, but if I think about the core reasons why I'd wear an Apple Watch on a daily basis, it would be mostly for the things I mentioned above.
It's easy to think that Apple fans probably look at the Apple Watch in the same way as the iPhone and by that, I mean they have to have the latest one. But I'm not so sure that applies to Apple's smartwatch. If you don't care about the gym or jumping in the pool with your Watch, why would you pay $329 for a Series 3 when you can pay $249 (and even less if you shop around) for a Series 1 instead?
I think it's a good thing that companies like Apple, Samsung, Fitbit and Google are getting people to think more about health and fitness. I think Fitbit is doing a good job of this right now as Apple, while the improvements to Google Fit are a step in the right direction for Wear OS. Maybe though, simple activity tracking is enough for most, along with the ability to filter out the notification noise from your phone, all without feeling you have to spend big to make that happen?
It's easy to get caught up in the health and fitness agenda that smartwatch makers are pushing, and they'll no doubt have the feedback and research to back up the decisions to add more health-centric features. But maybe there's an argument to say that it should reserve more time in its smartwatch announcements for the features that have made cheaper smartwatches like the Series 1 and the Amazfit Bip popular purchases.