The worldwide wearables market continued its upward trajectory in both the fourth quarter (4Q17) and full year 2017 with total shipment volumes reaching new records. And thanks to a surge in smartwatch shipment volumes, Apple moved past competitors Fitbit and Xiaomi to claim overall leadership for both the quarter and the year.
According to data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, total volumes for the quarter reached 37.9 million units, up 7.7% from the 35.2 million units shipped in the same quarter a year ago. For the full year, total wearable device shipments reached 115.4 million units, up 10.3% from the 104.6 million units shipped in 2016.
"The 10.3% year-over-year growth in 2017 is a marked decline from the 27.3% growth we saw in 2016," says Ramon T. Llamas, research director for IDC's Wearables team. "The slowdown is not due to a lack of interest – far from it. Instead, we saw numerous vendors, relying on older models, exit the market altogether. At the same time, the remaining vendors – including multiple start-ups – have not only replaced them, but with devices, features, and services that have helped make wearables more integral in people's lives. Going forward, the next generation of wearables will make the ones we saw as recently as 2016 look quaint."
Apple, meanwhile, suddenly finds itself atop the wearables market.
"Interest in smartwatches continues to grow and Apple is well-positioned to capture demand," adds Llamas. "User tastes have become more sophisticated over the past several quarters and Apple pounced on the demand for cellular connectivity and streaming multimedia. What will bear close observation is how Apple will iterate upon these and how the competition chooses to keep pace.”
4Q17 was the first quarter that Apple held the market leader position all to itself after spending several quarters close behind Fitbit or Xiaomi. The tech giant is catching the market at the right time with many users of basic wearables moving on to smartwatches and cellular connectivity (available on select Series 3 Watches) is earning a warm reception among end users, if only for the convenience of leaving their smartphone behind, according to IDC. The late-year push of 8.0 million units separated Apple from the competition to emerge as the overall leader of the wearables market for the year.