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

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

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

How we test

James Stables


James is the co-founder of Wareable, and he has been a technology journalist for 15 years.

He started his career at Future Publishing, James became the features editor of T3 Magazine and and was a regular contributor to TechRadar – before leaving Future Publishing to found Wareable in 2014.

James has been at the helm of Wareable since 2014 and has become one of the leading experts in wearable technologies globally. He has reviewed, tested, and covered pretty much every wearable on the market, and is passionate about the evolving industry, and wearables helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.

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