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Wearables use to jump almost 60% this year, says researcher

Adoption is growing but many people still question the need to own a wearable device. What will convince them to buy one?

Demand for wearable devices in the US is rising, but there's still plenty of room for growth.
Sarah Tew/CNET

The use of smartwatches and fitness trackers will surely surge in the US in the coming years, but don't expect anything like mass adoption.

This year, around 39.5 million US adults will purchase wearable devices, a rise of about 58 percent from 2014, research firm eMarketer said Wednesday. The number of buyers will double to 81.7 million by 2018, it projected.

The market for wearables, including smartwatches, activity trackers and health monitors, is still just getting off the ground with many consumers unsure exactly why they would need or want such a gadget. Budget-conscious buyers who already own a smartphone or other mobile device may be hesitant to spend money on something that seems to have little added value. The Apple Watch has generated some buzz, and seemingly every tech company has something to offer, but still only around 16 percent of US adults own a wearable.

Wearable devices are most popular among US adults between 25 and 44, who are the biggest trackers of fitness data. This year, about one-quarter of them will use a wearable device, and by 2018, the volume will rise to about half of that cohort. Over the next three years, US adults 65 and older will account for the biggest jump in wearable devices as more health monitors hit the market, eMarketer said.

High prices pose one of the biggest challenges to greater adoption, according to the research firm. The entry-level Apple Sport Watch, for example, starts at $349, and other models carry much higher price tags, and the LG Watch Urbane also comes in at $350. Dedicated sport and activity trackers typically cost less and have a more defined purpose than do smartwatches, according to a survey released Monday by Juniper Research.

eMarketer is also looking for one or more of the devices to achieve a significant market share. Apple was pegged at shipping 3.6 million watches during the second quarter, accounting for almost 20 percent of the market, according to a report released in August by research firm IDC. The No. 1 spot went to Fitbit, a maker of activity trackers, which shipped 4.4 million wearables.

Finally, eMarketer said, more mobile apps need to make their way to smartwatches and other wearables to attract a larger audience.