Is US finally falling in love with the smartwatch? More own one thanks to LTE

Rising smartwatch sales suggest this section of the wearables market is gaining mainstream acceptance.

Three years after Apple's entry into the smartwatch market, sales are picking up in the US thanks to built-in LTE. 

Today, 16 percent of adults own a smartwatch, four percentage points more than did in December 2017, according to analyst firm NPD. Penetration is higher in the 18- to 34-year-old age bracket, with 23 percent owning a smartwatch. 

NPD expects Apple's health-focused features in the Apple Watch Series 4 to expand adoption among older people this year, too. 

NPD puts the uptick in smartwatch sales down to more devices now coming with built-in LTE, allowing users to leave their phone behind and still be connected.

At the end of November 2018, smartwatch sales in the US were up 51 percent year over year, bringing in $5bn in revenues largely for Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit. 

The three vendors account for 88 percent of smartwatch unit sales in the year, with Apple in the lead. Unit sales are also up 61 percent during the period. Google will be looking to take a slice of this growth as it revamps WearOS with its recent acquisition of Fossil's smartwatch intellectual property

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Apple's Watch Series 3 was the first of its line that came with built-in LTE, and consumers can now choose from a growing number of smartwatches with cellular connectivity, such as the Huawei Watch 2 LTE and Garmin's new Verizon Vivoactive 3 Music, and Samsung Gear S3. 

"The ability to be truly connected via built-in LTE without the need to have a smartphone nearby proved to be a tipping point for consumers, as they now recognize the value in being able to complete a wide range of tasks on the device including receiving notifications, messaging, accessing smart home controls, and more," said Weston Henderek, director, industry analyst for NPD Connected Intelligence.

The analyst expects adoption to increase as vendors develop new ways to use smartwatches. For example, its survey found 15 percent of smartwatch owners use their device to control home automation devices.

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As Apple holds firmly onto its lead in the wearables category, Google seeks to refresh its flagging Wear OS with help from Fossil's IP and its R&D team.

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