Smartwatch popularity continues as we enter the holiday season

The percentage of people who own a smartwatch has grown globally. Why are they so popular, and how are they being used?
09 December 2021
jennifer chan

Global Strategic Insight Director

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While many categories have been impacted by the challenges of COVID-19, due to delayed or cancelled spending, the smartwatch category was not one of them. Penetration continues to grow globally.

A year ago in the U.S., during the height of the pandemic (the third quarter of 2020), smartwatch penetration was up 12% on the previous year. In the third quarter of 2021, 15% of the U.S. population owned a smartwatch, a further increase of nearly 30%.

Smartwatch Penetration


Q3 2019

Q3 2020

Q3 2021













Great Britain
















In the U.S., the Apple Watch remains the most popular smartwatch. It has continued to grow sales share by 4 percentage points year-on-year, taking a massive 63% of sales in the latest quarter.

While Samsung continues to grow its installed base of smartwatch customers, in terms of sales, share is down 4 percentage points year-on-year to 12%.

Following Google’s completion of its Fitbit acquisition, Fitbit’s share of smartwatch sales is up 2 percentage points year-on-year, reaching 12% sales share. Despite Fitbit sales growth, stronger performance from Apple Watch and Samsung has meant that Fitbit’s share of installed base has shrunk by 2 percentage points year-on-year.

Internet sales of smartwatches has continued to increase, now accounting for 71% of smartwatch sales (an increase of 5 percentage points year-on-year). Buyers are also doing their research online before making their purchase; 28% saying they “visited website of watch manufacturer”, and 23% saying they “visited website of a retailer (e.g. Best Buy)” before purchasing.

There is undoubtedly a huge opportunity for brands to continue to grow penetration over the festive shopping period, though it is worth noting that promotions are less of a lever for smartwatch purchasing: promotions were only cited by 15% of buyers in the third quarter.

What’s driven the penetration increase in the U.S.?

COVID put a greater emphasis on health. A higher proportion of smartwatch buyers chose to purchase in order to improve their overall health/fitness: 63% of buyers, up 7 percentage points.

As a main purchase criteria, “brand” is cited as a purchase reason by fewer buyers: 55% vs. 63% last year, whereas “operating system” was up 2 percentage points. For functionality, “battery life” and “cross platform support” were both cited more frequently.

How are smartwatches being used?

3 out of 4 U.S. buyers who self-purchased intended to use their device for tracking their fitness/health, up 3 percentage points over the same period a year ago. All other intended activities were down year on year, especially “checking the weather”, which was down 5 percentage points.

For consumers using their device for fitness and health, the most used functionality was the step counter: 74% were using this, up 4 percentage points year-on-year. Checking the overall active time was also more popular as a feature, and counting the number of stairs climbed. An interesting growing area for Apple Watch is sleep tracking, cited by 18% of users (3 percentage points more than last year.)

However, it seems that manufacturers need to work harder to keep their users engaged, as weekly usage has declined across 14 tracked usage activities. The activities seeing the greatest declines in usage were “Sending/Receiving Text Messages”, “Viewing notifications”, “Making/taking voice calls”, and “Listening to music e.g. via wireless headphones”.

The greatest levels of smartwatch engagement are in the first 6 months. “Checking calendars”, “checking weather” and “making voice calls” are among the functions used most in the first six months. We have seen that it is around the 6-11-month point when smartwatch owners are most likely to stop using the device.

For more information on who is buying and using devices of all kinds, please get in touch.

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