6 reasons why Apple Watch will kill activity trackers (and 6 reasons it won't)

Apple Watch owners and users of dedicated fitness trackers, such as Fitbits, share opinions on why smartwatches will eventually make trackers obsolete, as well as reasons why fitness gadgets will remain relevant … at least for a few more years.

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Credit: Brian Sacco

Will the Apple Watch, along with other smartwatches, make dedicated activity trackers obsolete? Or, at a minimum, will they severely stunt the future growth potential of fitness trackers? And what does it all mean for people planning to buy their first wearable to track exercise and sleep?

To answer these questions, we rounded up relevant market research and solicited input from Apple Watch owners and users of dedicated activity trackers. First up, the market research. (And if you're looking for excuses, err, reasons to wear both, read "Why you might want to use an Apple Watch AND a Fitbit.")

Market suggests smartwatches will prevail, but dedicated trackers thrive … for now

Depending upon the websites and publications you read, it can seem like Apple's Watch is either a "Newton-like failure" (according to Inc.) or a $1 billion success (Mashable.com). 

If you go beyond all the clickbait headlines, however, you find some experts who believe Apple's smartwatch is just getting started, and that it will take time to gain more widespread traction. In fact, a Global Equities Research analyst told CNNMoney in June that Apple Watch is on track to be Apple's most successful product debut, topping initial sales during the early days of the iPod (in 2001), the Phone (2007), and the iPad (2010). 

[Related: Why Apple Watch is a business traveler's best friend ]

"Apple's product debuts tend to follow a well-worn script: A first-generation device is always criticized as overpriced and a bit lacking in utility and is often vulnerable to the charge that it is a solution in search of a problem," writes The New York Times State of the Art columnist Farhad Manjoo, in reference to the Apple Watch. "Then, over a few years, Apple and its customers figure out the best uses for the gadget, and the company methodically improves design and functionality to meet those needs. It also tends to lower its prices. Correspondingly, sales explode."

Meanwhile, Fitbit's recent IPO was a success, and the manufacturer of activity trackers reported its first profit in 2014. For its latest quarter, Fitbit told analysts in early August that it had sold 4.5 million tracking devices, and the average selling price for a Fitbit device rose from $63 a year ago to $88, according to The Wall Street Journal.

fitbit charge Fitbit

Fitbit owns 85 percent of the entire activity tracker market, according to its CEO James Park, who spoke with The New York Times. The overall worldwide wearable device market is also thriving, with 11.4 million devices shipped in Q1 2015, up 200 percent from the same quarter of 2014, according to International Data Corporation. (IDC is a sister company to IDG, CIO.com's publisher.)

Another IDC report estimates that 72.1 million wearables will ship in 2015, up 173.3 percent from 2014. Between 2015 and 2019, wearables will experience a compound annual growth rate of 42.6 percent, IDC predicts. 

Here's where things get interesting. The IDC report also estimates that by 2019, worldwide shipments of "smart wearables," including the Apple Watch, will eclipse "basic wearables," defined as any device that doesn't run a third-party app, such as a Fitbit. In 2019, basic wearable shipments will see year-over-year growth of 76 percent, while smart wearable growth will increase by a whopping 683 percent year over year. 

Based on studies like the ones cited here, you might conclude that, yes, Apple Watch and other smartwatches will eventually dominate the wearables market. Dedicated activity trackers will still see growth — but for how long?

The recent history of consumer technology offers possible clues. For example, smartphones helped kill, or at least severely limit, demand for basic video camcorders (RIP, Flip!), point-and-shoot digital cameras, portable GPS devices, and low-end MP3 players. Exceptions in each of these categories exist, of course; GoPro has been successful with its mountable action camcorders, and Apple's iPod touch just received a major product refresh. Still, history shows that, in general, consumers tend to prefer one device that does multiple things instead of buying, recharging, and carrying specialized devices. 

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