The wearables market is under constant scrutiny for its growth potential, but despite a few moments of uncertainty, 2016 turned out to be a blockbuster year for the category overall.
According to the latest data from IDC, wearable shipments globally hit an all-time high of 33.9 million units in Q4 2016, an increase of nearly 17 percent year over year. Shipments for the entire year grew 25 percent to 102.4 million, in part due to new vendors entering the market and a refresh of product lineups.
Fitbit managed to hold on to its top spot in the vendor pool regardless of facing its largest declines ever in 2016.
Fitbit shipped 22.5 million devices in 2016, more than Apple, Garmin and Samsung combined. Chinese firm Xiaomi took the No. 2 spot with 15.7 million shipments, while Apple came in third with 10.7 million Apple Watch shipments.
Garmin captured the No. 4 position with 6.1 million shipments and Samsung came in fifth with 4.4 million device shipments in 2016.
IDC has long split the wearables category into "basic" and "smart" devices, with the former referring to simple fitness bands and the latter pertaining to devices capable of running third-party apps. Basic wearables have claimed the lion's share of the market, at times upwards of 85 percent, but with advances in WatchOS and Android Wear geared toward fitness and health applications, smart wearables are catching up.
"Smart wearables are evolving," said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas. "Health and fitness remains a major focus, but once these devices become connected to a cellular network, expect unique applications and communications capabilities to become available. This will also solve another key issue: freeing the device from the smartphone, creating a standalone experience."
Beyond wrist-worn wearables, IDC said 2016 also signaled a demand for ear-worn devices, aptly dubbed "hearables." By IDC's measure, hearables accounted for just over one percent of all wearable shipments in Q4, while sensor-laden clothing accounted for more than one percent of the entire market for the full year 2016.
"Though these numbers were minuscule, they show promise as numerous devices are expected from notable vendors in 2017," IDC said.
Smartwatches less than one-third of all wearables in US, says Kantar: