Gravity Matters: The Pull of Apple Watch

Whenever I’m kicking off a new piece of research, I find that it’s sensible to start by revisiting the previous version. It’s a great chance to review some interesting findings and make sure that the upcoming research successfully builds on it.

So before we start fieldwork for our 2023 smartwatch user survey, my preparation has led me to dig into the data from last year’s report, which clients can access here. One of the dynamics that struck me when I first looked at the results is how people moved from brand to brand when upgrading their smartwatch.

We discussed these findings in our research at the time, but I was keen to find a way to illustrate this migration between smartwatch brands. So, I’ve been playing around with a Sankey diagram to demonstrate flows, and particularly the gravity of Apple’s offering (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Flow of smartwatch owners between brands

Source: CCS Insight

The size of the bars on the left represents the number of survey respondents that previously used a smartwatch of each brand, with the bars on the right indicating each brand’s smartwatch ownership at the time of asking. The thickness of each line indicates how many respondents moved to which brand.

Off the bat, it’s clear that most customers chose to stick with the same smartwatch manufacturer when upgrading. This makes a lot of sense — device-makers invest a huge amount into creating their smartwatch user interface and platforms, and the wealth of historical data can make it hard for people to escape the orbit of their chosen brand. Fitbit even banked on this behaviour generating extra revenue through its Fitbit Premium subscription service.

However, the strength of this orbit varies dramatically between brands. Only Apple managed to keep more existing customers than it lost: 78% of respondents who previously used an Apple Watch bought another one when they upgraded. The next highest was Samsung, far behind with 44% of upgraders sticking with the brand. Fitbit, which has long passed its zenith but is still a major player, actually lost more customers to Apple alone than it managed to keep. We believe its subscription model for access to historical data and some additional features may have turned some customers away.

Another trend that the market may find daunting is that Apple is siphoning more customers from rivals than any other manufacturer, and the “stickiness” of Apple means that brands will have a hard time getting these users back. These trends are a microcosm of the advantages that Apple boasts more broadly, with competitors in other product categories also having to contend with its tight integration of software and hardware.

There’s a lot more to unpack in this data, especially when considered alongside the reasons respondents gave for swapping smartwatch brands. I’m excited to explore this further in this year’s survey and to extend the chart to show which brand people expect to buy next.

Get in touch if you’d like to hear more about our upcoming smartwatch user survey.