There are more non-fitness-focused wrist devices and kids’ watches than before. And Apple’s still on top.
Overall adoption for smartwatches and wearables appears to be cooling, but a few sub-niches — including smart clothes and smart buds — are starting to find their groove.
According to IDC’s latest worldwide wearables report, released Monday, shipments rose 1.2 percent to just over 25 million in the first three months of 2017 — a significant slowdown from a year ago. Apple hangs onto the lead, at 16.1 percent, capping a top 5 list that also includes Xiaomi (14.8 percent), Fitbit (8.7 percent), Huawei (5.2 percent) and Garmin (5 percent).
Wrist-worn gadgets were the overwhelming majority, at 95 percent, but there’s a rapid rise in smart clothing. With its 59 percent increase in growth driven mostly by step-counting footwear, its early stages are, like its arm-bound sister devices, informed by fitness use.
Although many devices have graduated from fitness and health, the category’s still a focus: Fitbit itself announced Monday that it shipped over one million Fitbit Versas and, within two weeks of launching female health mobile tracking, as many as 1.8 million women have tried it.
IDC also noted deeper interest in “hearables” and other areas. “Beyond the market leaders is a long list of other vendors forging their own path in the wearables market,” said Ramon T. Llamas, research director for IDC’s Wearables team. “While health and fitness remain the key value proposition behind many of these devices, a closer look reveals hearables that feature coaching, audio modification, and language translation, other wrist-worn devices focusing on personal safety, and connected watches for children.”
Hearables are a class of smart device designed for audio augmentation, and not just for users with hearing difficulties. When giants like Google and Apple decided recently to ditch the headphone ports in their flagship phones, the move accelerated development and adoption across the entire wireless earbud category. So-called smart buds can do far more than connect calls and play music — they can pipe in notifications, add sound effects to real world audio, translate foreign languages on demand, offer coaching and quickly connect to voice assistants like Siri or Google Assistant. The appeal has large companies such as Google, Sony and Bose competing with smaller outfits like Nuheara and Bragi for customers interested in “bionic ears.”
As for smartwatches, Apple’s growth still outpaces everyone else in the sector. The firm touted as much on Monday at its Worldwide Developer Conference. The latest edition of the Apple Watch features cellular connectivity, which has proven popular among smartwatch customers. Now, says IDC, roughly a third of all wearables features cellular connectivity.