As IDC reports smartwatches eclipsing basic trackers, Garmin, Samsung, and Tom Tom launch new devices

By Jonah Comstock
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IFA, a consumer electronics trade show that rivals CES for scope, begins this week in Berlin, and a number of wearables companies are taking the opportunity to announce next generation devices. At the same time, IDC has come out with its quarterly wearables tracking numbers.

IDC reports that wearables shipments grew 10.3 percent year over year, reaching 26.3 million during the second quarter of 2017. Specifically, most of that growth is in the smartwatch market, which IDC defines as wearables that can run third party apps. Those that can't, dubbed 'basic wearables', dropped just shy of one percent, while smartwatches grew 60.9 percent. 

"The transition towards more intelligent and feature-filled wearables is in full swing," Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC, said in a statement. "For years, rudimentary fitness trackers have acted as a gateway to smartwatches and now we're at a point where brands and consumers are graduating to a more sophisticated device. Previous niche features such as GPS and additional health tracking capabilities are quickly becoming staples of the modern smartwatch. Just a year ago only 24.5 percent of all wearables had embedded GPS while today that number has reached almost 41.7 percent."

Ubrani also noted that health and fitness are growing interest areas.

"Equally important to device features will be the algorithms tracking workouts and providing health insights," he said. "There is growing interest from the medical industry to adopt wearables and consumer expectations are also on the rise. This is where companies like Apple and Fitbit have the potential to maintain their lead as their investments in the tracking and perhaps diagnosing of diseases will be a clear differentiator from low-cost rivals."

Fitbit, of course, has just unveiled its Ionic smartwatch -- a move that seems to be in the right direction, given the trends IDC has noted.

"With the launch of our first smartwatch, Fitbit Ionic, we are delivering what consumers have not previously seen in other smartwatches: advanced health and fitness features, a highly personalized experience, industry-leading GPS, and apps and smart features – all with 4+ day battery life and cross-platform compatibility," a Fitbit spokesperson said in an email. "With the introduction of a new relative SpO2 sensor that could be used in the future to track health issues such as sleep apnea, Ionic also delivers on Fitbit’s commitment to develop innovative technologies that drive positive health outcomes, helping to transition wearables from a 'nice to have' to a 'need to have'."

New trackers, features from Garmin, Samsung, and Tom Tom

Garmin announced three new, updated devices at IFA, including a smartwatch offering. The vivomove HR is the company's first hybrid touchscreen smartwatch. It tracks activity and heart rate, and uses those sensors to provide stress tracking as well.

“When we first introduced the vívomove last year, it was geared towards customers who wanted a beautiful timepiece first and activity tracking functions second,” Dan Bartel, Garmin vice president of worldwide sales, said in a statement. “With the new vívomove HR, not only is the design as elegant as ever, the wearable technology is cutting edge. We’re the first on the market to offer a hybrid smartwatch with both wrist-based heart rate and a digital touchscreen display. And you get all of that without losing the classic, timeless look of an analog watch.”

Vivosport is the company's new fitness tracker, which includes GPS and heart rate but is slimmer than the vivomove. Finally, vivoactive 3 is the company's true smartwatch, with a fitness-focused app store and, notably, mobile payments -- a feature that the company argues is particularly useful for athletes.

"Anyone who is out and about being active can relate to the struggle of where to stash a credit card or cash, and has had to forgo a post-workout snack or coffee as a result,” Bartel said. “We’re solving that dilemma with Garmin Pay, an exciting feature on the new vívoactive 3. Use it pretty much wherever contactless payments are accepted, and give yourself one less thing to remember when you’re leaving the house.”

Samsung announced the Gear Sport smartwatch and the Gear Fit 2 Pro fitness band. Both are minor upgrades from the company's existing offerings, but they add features like water resistance and, again, in the case of the Gear Sport, NFC payment capabilities. 

Tom Tom didn't announce new devices, but added new features to its existing device line: Fitness Age and Fitness Points, two new ways for users to measure and track their fitness, and personalized workouts.