Smartwatches haven’t killed fitness tracker demand, but Apple Watch creeping up

Apple Watch AP 920

Consumer interest in wearable electronic devices is still driven by cheaper fitness trackers despite the splashy debut of several smartwatches, but the Apple Watch is making a dent in the market, a pair of research firms reported Thursday.

The latest wearable tech market report from International Data Corp. estimates that Apple shipped 3.6 million smartwatches in the second quarter. That puts Apple in second place behind market leader Fitbit, which shipped 4.4 million units in the quarter, IDC said.

In a separate report, market research firm Argus Insights said consumer interest in fitness trackers, which make up Fitbit’s core products, remains higher than smartwatches despite an uptick during the Apple Watch’s first season on the market.

Argus Insights’ report attempts to trace consumer demand for wearable devices by tracking reviews for different models and types of gadgets across the Internet. The firm said it analyzed nearly 328,000 reviews dating to January 2012.

“Consumers who were interested in buying wearable technology bought in for the holidays, leaving fewer people still looking. The large jump in demand in January left the wrists of interested adopters full – mostly with new Fitbits,” Argus said.

Apple has so far not disclosed any sales numbers for the Apple Watch, which went on sale in April. In the absence of hard figures, industry analysts and news outlets have tried to reverse engineer a picture of how well the device is selling.

Some reports from Apple suppliers have indicated low sales figures, but BestBuy recently said that demand for the Apple Watch was so strong that the retailer would start carrying the device in all of its stores. Apple competitors, including Motorola and Samsung, also offer smartwatches. Other reports have suggested that the Apple Watch is eating into sales of traditional timepieces.

As the richest and most influential device company in tech, Apple’s rise as a competitor can only help grow the wearables sector, IDC said.

“Anytime Apple enters a new market, not only does it draw attention to itself, but to the market as a whole,” IDC research manager Ramon Llamas said in a news release. “Its participation benefits multiple players and platforms within the wearables ecosystem, and ultimately drives total volumes higher.”

One cautionary note for fitness-tracker companies, however: Argus also said that early analysis of the content of consumer reviews shows that consumers are happier with their multi-featured smartwatches than they are with simpler devices such as Fitbits.

“Consumers expect their wearables to do more than simply count steps, just as they expect to do more than just make phone calls with their handsets,” Argus Insights CEO John Feland said in a news release.

Second quarter wearable shipments, by vendor

Vendor Units (millions) Market share
Fitbit 4.4 24.3%
Apple 3.6 19.9%
Xiaomi 3.1 17.1%
Garmin 0.7 3.9%
Samsung 0.6 3.3%
Others 5.7 31.5%
TOTAL 18.1 100.0%

SOURCE: IDC Worldwide

Updated 11 a.m. with additional detail from IDC.