Consumers reallocated their disposable income from the usual essentials to leisure activities during the pandemic. This, according to the new data from the International Data Corp. (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker led to the surge of 153.5 million wearable shipments in the fourth quarter of 2020 (4Q20).
IDC said wearable devices shipment posted a year-over-year (YoY) increase of 27.2% with shipments for the full year grew 28.4% to 444.7 million units.
“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,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “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 is allowing users and health professionals to better understand the onset and tracking of diseases.”
Hearables (earworn device that offers functionality beyond audio, like a smart assistant, health and fitness tracking, or audio experience enhancement) were the largest category of devices with 64.2% share of shipments, followed by watches with 24.1% share. The demand for these devices was driven by the work from home arrangement where businesses communicate through various video conference platforms and audio devices have become an essential tool.
“2020 was the year that hearables became the must-have device,” said Ramon T. Llamas, research director for IDC’s Wearables Team. “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 canceling and voice assistant capability.”
But with the shortage in manufacturing of semiconductors, essential components in the assembly of computing devices, other markets suffered because of the pandemic. These include wristbands which declined by 17.8% during the quarter and accounted for just 11.5% of all wearable devices shipped.
Apple led the market once again with a 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 YoY 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.
Xiaomi ended the quarter in the second position, growing 5% YoY. 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 the Asia Pacific (APAC). Looking ahead, the company is well-positioned to gain from Huawei’s declines as well as growth in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (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 the 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 United States government. While its shipments within China grew 9.4% YoY, shipments declined in previously strong markets such as APAC (excluding Japan and China), the Middle East and Africa, and Western Europe. The company has slowly started to move away from wristbands and toward 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 5 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.