Fitness trackers still rule the gyms but serious runners look to smartwatches

Rumours of the fitness tracker's demise have been hugely exaggerated

While smartwatches are often criticised for lacking a clear use case, it seems the benefits they offer aren't lost on fitness fans.

New research by NPD Connected Intelligence has found that while activity trackers are still the go-to device for keep-fitters, the smartwatch is increasingly figuring in their buying decision.

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NPD found that runners are increasingly the highest bracket of smartwatch users, with 22% of reporting that they run on a regular basis. In comparison, 21% of activity tracker wearers say they hit the streets on a regular basis.

While there's little difference in those two groups, 17% of smartwatch users considered running a serious passion. That's compared to 13% of fitness band users, which shows that the enhanced features of smartwatches – including built-in GPS and dedicated running apps – are giving the likes of the Moto 360 Sport and Sony SmartWatch 3 a foothold.

While the report seems geared to show the differences between activity tracker and smartwatch users, when it comes to wearable devices, it's fitness types who have the most to gain.

"Activity tracker ownership continues to grow rapidly with more than double the smartwatch base," said Eddie Hold, president of NPD Connected Intelligence.

"While we are seeing that some forms of exercise are more likely to be impacted by the smartwatch, there are still a number of consumers that are planning to purchase activity trackers to monitor their fitness. Of folks that report they exercise several times a week, 47% are planning to purchase an activity tracker soon."

The report also shows that early predictions that advanced smartwatches would kill off the fitness tracker have proved unfounded. However, Hold believes that fitness tracker brands will need to keep adding new features to their bands, in order to counter devices like the Apple Watch and Pebble Time 2 squeezing them out.

"Activity tracker companies must continue to broaden their portfolios to satisfy more exercise-focused consumers – combining specialist functions with generalist capabilities."

Sports fans: let us know whether you've chosen an activity tracker or a smartwatch, and which one serves your needs best in the comments below.

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  • GDawg·

    It's not just built-in GPS that makes the SW3 and Moto 360 Sport so popular. It's the fact they are STILL the only smartwatches with music storage as well as all the other features

  • curtisrose·

    I was a SW3 advocate for the longest time and still love that watch.. but the GPS flaw that drops signal when it gets sweaty was too much to handle. I ended moving over to the hybrid band of the Gear Fit 2. It packs GPS, music storage and syncs with Strava. I wish that the onboard apps selection was a bit stronger, but when I really boiled it down to what I was using my SW3 for - it covered all the basis. Also, the GPS tracking on the Gear Fit 2 was far superior to the SW3. The downside is that you need a Galaxy phone to really get the full data sync. Hope that helps.