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The Unwearable Truth

Carl Zetie
July 15, 2015
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It wasn't supposed to be like this.

The Apple Watch is flopping, reports Fast Company via Engadget. And this isn't even the worst of the news: how it's flopping is the truly disturbing part of the tale. From a reservation-only sold-out launch day, sales have rapidly declined and are now down 90%, reports analytics firm Slice Intelligence. Worse: the decline is not flattening out, which might be excused or even expected after such a hyped-up, high profile launch; the declines in recent weeks are getting steeper. This is not what happens when people love a product so much that they tell their friends, and their friends want one too. The story that best fits the sales curve? Almost everybody who wants an Apple Watch now has one.

But before Apple's tech rivals indulge in too much Schadenfreude about a product launch that is more Newton than iPad, bad news for Apple is not good news for everybody else. Fitbit -- which, for all practical purposes, is the fitness tracker market -- may be delighted that its sales rebounded strongly after a pause in anticipation of the Apple Watch, but it has problems of its own. According to analyst firm Gartner, the fitness band market may already have peaked, with sales declining this year over last. Over 40% of users drop their trackers within six months, a rate about as bad as gym attendance among New Year sign-ups, according to market-research firm NPD Group; Fitbit's own IPO regulatory filings revealed that only half of its registered users were still active as of the first quarter of this year. And disillusionment may be turning to outright backlash as more and more users question the durability, reliability, accuracy, and flat-out usefulness of their bands. What good is a fitness tracker that doesn't accurately track your activity? The people most likely to stick with their bands? The already-fit.

And beyond smartwatches and fitness trackers, the wearables market is... what, exactly? (Please, let's not even talk about Google Glass.) This was supposed to be the next big thing. The most optimistic outlook is that smartwatches -- and wearables in general -- are a fine idea that just haven't found the right killer app; the more pessimistic that the technology isn't ready yet.

The darkest view of all, though, is that the problem is neither the technology nor the app. The problem may be that wearables are a technology still looking for a problem to solve.

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