Market research firm IDC published its first-quarter 2019 report on the wearables market today, and no one will be surprised to learn that Apple maintained its industry-leading market share thanks to growth in shipments of Apple Watches, AirPods, and Beats headphones. But Asian rivals Xiaomi, Huawei, and Samsung all saw sharper year-over-year increases than Apple, IDC suggests, with Huawei posting 282.2% gains — a small miracle given the clouds gathering over the company’s businesses.
Worth noting up front: IDC’s numbers look at shipments rather than sales, numbers that — if accurate in the first place — could be manipulated merely by pushing more inventory out the door with plans to aggressively discount it later. Additionally, the firm added “ear-worn devices” to the largely wrist-worn category last year, enabling both smartwatches and certain earphones to figure into its tracking; wrist wearables are said to constitute a 63.2% share of the market, while ear devices had a smaller 34.6% share, but faster year over year growth: 135.1% compared with only 31.6% for wrist wearables.
For Apple, the uptick was big in shipment numbers, but not as impressive by percentages: Shipments were up to 12.8 million in the first quarter of 2019, a 49.5% jump from 8.6 million units a year earlier. However, the company’s 26.8% overall market share slipped a hint to 25.8%, still roughly twice that of its closest competitor.
Chinese companies Xiaomi and Huawei took second and third place in shipments for the quarter, with 6.6 million and 5 million units respectively. Huawei’s number was up almost four times from a year ago, enabling it to surge past now fourth-place Samsung, which shipped 4.3 million units in the quarter. All three companies were up markedly in shipments from year to year, reflecting the market’s overall growth, while fifth-place Fitbit moved from 2.2 million units a year ago to 2.9 million in the first quarter of 2019, falling to 5.9% market share.
Interestingly, IDC suggests that Apple has been overtaken in wrist wearable shipments (4.6 million) by Xiaomi (5.3 million), and is only modestly ahead of Huawei (3.9 million). Doing the math, that means ear-worn devices such as AirPods generated the bulk of Apple’s wearable demand, though the late March release of second-generation AirPods may have been responsible for the big uptick in shipments for the quarter.
IDC notes that the Mi Band was Xiaomi’s most popular wearable, shipping 5 million units on its own, while Huawei and Samsung benefited from bundling their wearables with hot-selling smartphones. Samsung notably launched the Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Watch Active in February, offering the wireless earphones as a free gift for early Galaxy S10 customers.