Can Apple Take Another Bite Out of the Smartwatch Competition?

One of the most significant trends unveiled in CCS Insight’s 2022 smartwatch survey was the increasing preference of smartwatch owners to switch to an Apple Watch. This shift in consumer behaviour, which I explored in a previous blog post, highlighted Apple as the primary beneficiary of Fitbit’s declining hardware sales. A substantial portion of Samsung owners also switched to Apple, indicating a broader shift in the consumer devices market.

In our 2023 smartwatch survey, we added questions to provide more comprehensive insights. The new data allows us to investigate the reasons behind this brand-switching behaviour. The best way to demonstrate these findings is in a Sankey diagram:

The size of the bars on the left represents the portion of survey respondents who previously used a smartwatch of each brand. The bars in the middle indicate respondents’ current smartwatch brands, and those on the right show the watch they plan to buy when they upgrade. The thickness of each line indicates the proportion of respondents moving between brands.

The first thing I noticed when charting the data was that more people switched brands when buying their current smartwatch than those who intend to switch when they upgrade. In short, loyalty appears to have increased. This suggests that the wave of brand switching has run out of steam, and we’ll now see less movement between smartwatch brands, indicating a potential stabilization in the market.

However, the time between upgrade cycles leaves a lot of room for things to change, such as people’s preferred smartphone brand or financial circumstances. These factors can lead buyers to make unexpected decisions — many people who told us they plan to stay with their current brand might actually end up switching.

Looking into why people expect to switch or stay with their current brand reveals interesting insight. For Apple Watch owners, the most common reason for sticking is because Apple is simply the only brand of smartwatch they’re interested in. The second most common reason is that owners use other Apple products. These factors show the strength of Apple’s ecosystem as well as its cultural relevance. Samsung also benefits from this behaviour: owning multiple products from the brand is the main reason people choose to stay with and switch to Samsung when picking their next smartwatch.

The biggest group of switchers, from Fitbit to Apple, told us that an Apple Watch will work better with their phone than a Fitbit smartwatch. This group must consist of iPhone users, further reinforcing the strength of Apple’s ecosystem.

In a demonstration of Apple’s popularity, people most frequently switch from Samsung to Apple because their “family and friends have this brand”. This indicates that there’s social pressure to be seen with Apple products — a dynamic that is anecdotally well-established through features such as iMessage’s iconic blue message bubbles.

Interestingly, only respondents planning to stick with their current brand or switch to the Other category prioritized the features of a smartwatch. By far, the most significant contributor to this group is Garmin. It’s clear that the depth of features offered by Garmin smartwatches, particularly those related to sports and activity tracking, pulls people to the brand, even from giants like Apple and Samsung. This shows the strength of differentiated offerings with a dedicated use, a niche that brands like Garmin remain keen to defend.

Our latest smartwatch survey highlights Apple’s increasing dominance in the wearables space, fuelled by a combination of brand loyalty, ecosystem integration and cultural relevance. The survey also emphasizes the importance of specialized features, particularly for fitness enthusiasts drawn to Garmin’s offerings. Looking ahead, the release of smart rings from major brands such as Samsung and the next wave of feature and sensor development on smartwatches are poised to shake up the wearables market. I look forward to seeing what our consumer research reveals next.

Interested in the full findings of our smartwatch survey? Contact us to learn more.