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Consumer demand boosts wearable device market growth

By Catherine Knowles, Wed 17 Mar 2021

Enthusiasm for wearable devices continues to grow, with overall shipments increasing significantly, according to new data from IDC.

IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker shows worldwide shipments of wearable devices reached 153.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 (4Q20), a year-over-year increase of 27.2%.

Shipments for the full year grew 28.4% to 444.7 million units.

Wearable trends

While the final quarter was largely driven by new devices and lower prices, the broader trend for 2020 was the surge in consumer spending for electronics as disposable income was reallocated from leisure activities during the pandemic, IDC states.

IDC Mobile Device Trackers research manager Jitesh Ubrani says, "While the shift in spending along with new products and typical seasonality were at play during the fourth quarter, the pandemic has also been good for the market as it has put health and fitness at the forefront of many consumers’ minds."

Ubrani says, "In-home fitness programs are quickly becoming a crucial component of the wearables offering for many companies.

"Beyond that, the proliferation of health sensors such as skin temperature, ECG, and heart rate tracking are allowing users and health professionals to better understand the onset and tracking of diseases."

Growth by product

However, growth has not been even across the wearables market as some companies and products were affected by the global semiconductor shortage, IDC states.

Most notably, wristbands declined 17.8% during the quarter and accounted for just 11.5% of all wearable devices shipped.

‘Hearables’ were the largest category of devices with 64.2% share of shipments, followed by watches with 24.1% share.

IDC Wearables Team research director Ramon T. Llamas says, "2020 was the year that hearables became the must-have device.

"Hearables provided a new degree of privacy, particularly during home quarantine but also while out in public.

"Meeting that demand was a long list of vendors with an equally long list of devices, spanning the range of feature sets and price points.

"Underpinning the hearables market was a constantly shifting competitive landscape, with companies slowly gaining a foothold in the market (Amazon and its Echo Buds and Frames), vendors introducing new form factors (Apple and AirPods Max), and new features making their way down the price curve, including automatic noise cancelling and voice assistant capability."

Growth by company

In terms of companies, Apple led the market once again with 36.2% share of 4Q20 shipments.

Its Watch shipments rose 45.6% thanks to the appeal of three models with different price points (Series 6, Watch SE, Series 3).

Hearables shipments also surged during the quarter although year-over-year growth slowed to 22%, down from 28% and 29% in the previous two quarters.

The slowing growth reflects the huge amount of adoption that the market has seen in recent quarters, IDC states.

Xiaomi ended the quarter in the second position, growing 5% year over year.

However, the company's shipments of its popular Mi Band lineup declined 18.3% during the supply-challenged quarter.

Driving overall growth was the expansion of the hearables line, which grew 55.5% since last year and is largely focused on China and the rest of Asia/Pacific.

Looking ahead, the company is well positioned to gain from Huawei's declines as well as grow in EMEA thanks to its push in the smartphone industry.

Samsung held the third position with growth coming from its hearables business as the company shipped 8.8 million units across its various brands.

Samsung's low-cost wristbands also saw greater traction and were able to compete with the Chinese vendors in a few markets although overall volume for these devices was relatively low at 1.3 million units.

Overall watch shipments declined to 2.9 million in 4Q20. Huawei fell to fourth place in 4Q20 and continued to struggle with the sanctions imposed by the U.S. government.

While its shipments within China grew 9.4% year over year, shipments declined in previously strong markets such as Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan and China), the Middle East and Africa, and Western Europe.

The company has slowly started to move away from wristbands and towards watches as exhibited by the 18.2% growth in watch shipments and the 33.7% decline in wristbands.

Watches also command a higher average selling price (ASP) and enabled the company to get closer to developers with its homegrown HarmonyOS, which is expected to tie in with smartwatches in the future.

BoAt rounded out the top five with 5.4 million units shipped in 4Q20. However, the company is solely operating in India and almost exclusively focuses on the hearables segment.

As such, global expansion may prove challenging as the global wearables market remains dominated by multinational brands, according to IDC.

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