Smartwatches are getting more fashionable. 

International Data Corp.’s Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker revealed that in the third quarter, global shipments hit 26.3 million units, amounting to a 7.3 percent year-over-year increase. Companies, including Fossil and Movado, have been offering smarter, more advanced wearables lately and seen them gain steam while single-purpose fitness trackers declined. 

The difference between the two groups hinges on whether a given gadget can run third-party applications from other developers. According to IDC, emerging trends point to a shift in consumer preferences, with more robust devices maturing and offering more appeal. 

“The differing trajectories for both smart and basic wearables underscore the ongoing evolution for the wearables market,” said Ramon T. Llamas, research manager for IDC’s wearables team.

He noted that devices, like fitness trackers from Fitbit, Xiaomi and Huawei, helped establish the wearables market. They acquainted consumers with the idea of wearing technology. “But as tastes and demands have changed toward multipurpose devices — like smartwatches from Apple, Fossil and Samsung — vendors find themselves at a crossroads to adjust accordingly to capture growth opportunity and mindshare,” he said.

Fitbit and Xiaomi closed the quarter tied for first place, but both posted declines with fitness trackers. Fitbit’s approach was to launch its first smartwatch, called the Ionic. Xiaomi diversified its fitness-oriented bands and watches with smart footwear geared for its core Chinese market. 

Jitesh Ubrani, IDC’s senior research analyst for mobile device trackers, attributes some of the shift to a change in purveyors, from technology companies to style-conscious watchmakers. “Traditional tech outlets still play a huge role in distribution, but companies like Fossil and Movado are pushing forth fashion-oriented channels,” Ubrani explained. “Meanwhile, Apple’s recent introduction of cellular connectivity, and Samsung’s longstanding relationship with [telephone companies] are also helping provide an uplift to sales and awareness of wearables.”

Though it made its debut late in the quarter, the third Apple Watch gave the tech giant an overall shipment increase and kept the iPhone maker near the top of the list. Apple showed 52.4 percent growth compared to last year, and the new model’s cellular connectivity is expected to power ongoing interest, as consumers get used to the notion of a phone-free smartwatch experience. 

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