Apple AirPods and other smart 'hearables' are ruling the wearable tech market

Apple AirPods and other ear-worn devices dominate the largest segment of the wearables market.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Shipments of wearables grew 14.1% in Q2 2020 but a lot of that growth was driven by strong demand for 'hearables' like Apple's AirPods. 

Global shipments of wearables rose to 86.2 million in the second quarter or 14.1% year on year, according to analyst firm IDC

Wearables bucked the downward trend in the much larger smartphone category, which saw shipments decline by 14% in Q2 to 285 million units, according to a recent report from analyst firm Canalys.

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But, according to IDC, the main driver for growth in wearables in Q2 were "hearables" like Apple's AirPods and AirPods Pro, as well as rival products from Samsung and Xiaomi. Shipments of gadgets like AirPods grew 32.6% and accounted for 60% of all wearables in Q2 2020.  

"Hearables show much stronger and broader demand than smartwatches and fitness trackers," said David Myhrer, research vice president for IDC's Consumer Technology Strategy Service. 

According to Myhrer, IDC's data on consumers' self-reported spend on gadgets like AirPods grew 7% in the quarter though to July compared to its April figure, while spending on smartwatches and fitness trackers declined by a third. Demand for smartwatches among poorer consumers has almost disappeared, he said.  

"The data make it clear just how discretionary a purchase smartwatches and fitness trackers are. Demand among those with low incomes has dried up almost completely. Meanwhile, consumers at the top of the market remain bullish," said Myhrer. 

Apple dominated the hearables category with estimated shipments of 23.7 million AirPods and Beats products, followed by Samsung and Xiaomi. 

Smartwatch and wristband shipments accounted for 39.2% of all shipments, down from 46.8% in Q2 2019.

However, IDC research manager Jitesh Ubrani argues that wearable vendors have benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to their use for warning people about social-distancing breaches and to track symptoms. 

"Health continues to be at the forefront of use cases for wearables, but with gyms closing and outdoor activities limited, users have opted for online or in-app fitness sessions and this has ultimately helped vendors to ramp up the services side of their wearables businesses," said Ubrani. 

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IDC estimates market leader Apple's total wearable shipments were 29.4 million for the quarter, giving it a 34.2% market share and year-over-year growth of 25.3%. Huawei, the second runner, had shipments of 10.9 million and a 12.6% marketshare with 58% year-on-year growth.  

Xiaomi was not far behind Huawei with 10.1 million units shipped and year-on-year growth of 13.5%, followed by Samsung with 7.1 million shipments but only 0.9% year-on-year growth. Fitbit shipped 2.5 minion units and saw a year-on-year decline of 29.2%.      

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