While the worldwide market for wearables has been showing continued growth, there seems to be a shift toward smart wearables, i.e. those that can run third-party applications, over more basic devices.
According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, total shipment volumes of wearables overall in the third quarter of 2017 was 26.3 million units, which represents a rise of 7.3% year-over-year.
"The differing trajectories for both smart and basic wearables underscore the ongoing evolution for the wearables market," says Ramon T. Llamas, Research Manager for IDC's Wearables team. "Basic wearables - with devices coming from Fitbit, Xiaomi, and Huawei - helped establish the wearables market. But as tastes and demands have changed towards multi-purpose devices - like smartwatches from Apple, Fossil, and Samsung - vendors find themselves at a crossroads to adjust accordingly to capture growth opportunity and mindshare."
"Along with a change in the types of devices being sold, there's also in a change in where the devices are being sold," notes Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. "Traditional tech outlets still play a huge role in distribution, but companies like Fossil and Movado are pushing forth fashion-oriented channels. Meanwhile, Apple's recent introduction of cellular connectivity, and Samsung's longstanding relationship with telcos are also helping provide an uplift to sales and awareness of wearables."
Fitbit and Xiaomi finished the quarter in a statistical tie for first place, but showed different routes getting there. Fitbit, while showing a notable decrease in shipment volume, debuted its first smartwatch, the Ionic, a fitness-oriented device that plays to the company's rich fitness heritage. But despite favourable reviews (read our in-depth review of the Ionic), Fitbit still posted its fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year declines as it faces growing competition.
Xiaomi, meanwhile, posted a slight year-over-year decrease in volume with a diversification beyond fitness bands and watches and adding its own line of smart footwear. But as seen in previous quarters, the majority of Xiaomi's shipments remained within its home country of China.
Apple's results reflect the timing of its product refresh late in the quarter - the release of its Watch 3 was enough to buoy volumes and remain ahead of the competition. The introduction of a cellular-connected version should spur interest from would-be purchasers going forward, predicts IDC, and its slow and purposeful approach to cellular-enabled capabilities (including voice, data, and streaming music) will give users time to acclimate to a smartphone-free experience.
Huawei posted the largest year-over-year growth among the leading vendors, showing a renewed dedication to fitness bands with several new models, including the Sport Band 2 Pro, B19 and B29, and an introduction to smart earwear with its Sport Pulse Earphones that track heart rate in addition to audio. Like Xiaomi, the majority of Huawei's shipments, however, remained in China.
Garmin, though showing a year-over-year decline, continues its transition from basic wearables to smart wearables, with the two categories nearly balancing each other out. Still, Garmin boasts one of the most diversified product portfolios, with devices addressing multiple sports and lifestyle segments, and offering a smart wearable for nearly each of them.
It will be interesting to see what 2018, and the 2018 CES, brings to the table for wearables. Not only as we shift from basic fitness bands to stylish smartwatches that provide notifications and activity tracking, and integrate with third-party services, but also as the idea of wearables expands even further beyond just devices worn around the wrist.
Apple Watch Series 3