Wearable devices are still big business.
According to IDC, the market grew 7.7 percent over the holiday quarter. Not bad for a sector that many in the tech industry left for dead.
In the lead, Apple pulled away from competitors Fitbit and Xiaomi, surpassing their market share to take a hefty 21 percent during the last quarter. As a single device, the Apple Watch lead the year in total, with 15.3 percent share during 2017.
That’s quite a reversal compared to the previous year, when Fitbit dominated the charts. In 2016, Fitbit’s 22.5 million shipments easily eclipsed the Apple Watch, whose shipment numbers came in at less than half, by comparison. Even Xiaomi, a Chinese tech maker with little to no brand recognition in the U.S., had 5 million more global shipments than Apple.
The watershed moment for the iPhone maker’s wearables business was the debut of the Apple Watch Series 3, which hit the market last fall with cellular support. The standalone connectivity allows the device to work on its own, without being paired to an iPhone.
That introduction came on the heels of a tech exodus from the category. Numerous players stepped back or shut down their wearables operations over the last few years — including Adidas, Intel, Jawbone, Nokia, Pebble and TomTom.
The mass departures could have been a death knell for smartwatches and fitness bands, if it weren’t for Apple’s Series 3 watch and other products by startups, as well as companies such as Tag Heuer and Fossil Group. The latter spun up hundreds of fashion-forward models across its brands and partners. The market saw an influx of new connected timepieces and hybrid devices, which fuse analog aesthetics and mechanisms with mobile alerts and other digital features.
The result was a market that was hampered, but not hobbled.
IDC reported that, year over year, 2017’s 10.3 percent growth was a marked decline from the 27.3 percent growth in 2016. But, noted analyst Ramon Llamas, “the slowdown is not due to a lack of interest — far from it…the remaining vendors — including multiple start-ups — have not only replaced them, but with devices, features, and services that have helped make wearables more integral in people’s lives.”
Llamas expects there’s even more to look forward to as the technology evolves: “The next generation of wearables will make the ones we saw as recently as 2016 look quaint,” he said.