One of the many lessons learned during the COVID-19 era is some markets are resilient in the face of global pandemic, and others not so much. New data from IDC suggest the wearables market is part of the former.
Worldwide shipments of wearable devices grew by 29.7% year-on-year for the first quarter of 2020 (Q1 2020), fuelled by new product launches from market leaders as well as increased perceived utility as people set up offices at home.
Total device volume has reached 72.6 million units, according to IDC, but growth was disproportional across the various subsets within the market – wristbands and hearables were cash cows, but smart and basic watches continued their decline in the market.
Fitbit's Charge 4 launch was a major factor contributing toward the 16.2% growth in the wristband category, as were aggressive price points from Xiaomi and Huawei.
But it's the hearable market which carried most of the growth for wearables, accounting for 54.9% of the entire market and seeing huge growth during the quarter at 68.3%.
"The hearables category was seemingly resilient to the market-suppressing forces caused by COVID-19," says IDC research manager for Mobile Device Trackers Jitesh Ubrani.
"Consumers were clamouring for these sophisticated earpieces not only for the ability to playback audio but also to help them increase productivity, as many of them were forced to work from home and sought ways to reduce surrounding noise while staying connected to their smartphones and smart assistants."
But of course, the pandemic did take its toll on the market, with the supply of smart and basic watches suffering shortfalls as factories manufacturing components suffered shutdowns during Q1 2020.
Vendors that rely less on the Chinese markets fared better, with Huawei, Garmin and Huami managing growth thanks to investment in market such as the US, Europe and parts of Asia.
"The downward pressure on watches shifts the onus to the latter half of 2020," says IDC research director for the company's wearables team, Ramon T. Llamas.
"This gives companies the time to refine their products and messaging, and to align those with customer needs.
“Given the hyper-focus on overall health and fitness in today's climate, vendors would do well to highlight those capabilities, and provide guidance on how to live healthier lives."
Apple claimed the top spot again within the wearables market with 29.3% market share. In a major indication of the strength of hearables vs watches, data shows that the company's Beats and Airpod products offset the negative growth in shipments suffered by Apple Watch.
In second place was Xiaomi, which shipped 7.3 million wristbands and watches. Further expansion outside of China proved successful, while its shift in distribution from etailers to online and offline retailers has allowed the company to build a comfortable lead over most other brands, says IDC.
Samsung comes in at third, with its hearables/earwear business accounting for 74% of its total shipments during the quarter, up from 58.9% year-on-year. The latest generation of Galaxy Buds and Buds+ over 4 million units during the quarter.
In contrast to other vendors, Huawei saw growth in China despite lockdown measures thanks to a strong online presence and close ties with local retailers. It also grew in Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia – but as political pressure mounts against the company, this growth may be threatened in the future.
Fitbit saw no growth, declining by 26.1% thanks largely to major supply issues in its Chinese production. Its absence in the hearable market was also a major factor, as well as strong competition from Apple and Samsung in its key markets.