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Wearables Market Continues Kick in First Quarter


Fitbit has lost its pacing. According to the latest device tracker from International Data Corporation, United States-based Apple and China-based smartphone maker Xiaomi have edged out the wearables leader. At the same time, the worldwide wearables market is seeing double-digit growth among many of the device makers, led by Samsung. IDC's quarterly trackers examine market size, company share and forecasts. The latest covers shipment of products during the first quarter of 2017.

During 1Q17 both Xiaomi and Apple shipped 3.6 million wearable devices (with a slight bump by Xiaomi over Apple), compared to Fitbit's 3 million, IDC reported. Korean behemoth Samsung came in fourth with 1.4 million shipments.

The overall wearables market grew by almost 18 percent year over year, compared to 17 percent last quarter. However, Samsung saw the most dramatic rise, growing during the quarter by 91 percent year over year. Apple's YoY growth was 64 percent over the same period, while Fitbit saw a drop of almost 38 percent.

"Fitbit finds itself in the midst of a transformation as user tastes evolve from fitness bands to watches and other products," said Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC's Wearables team, in a prepared statement. That pullback gave Xiaomi room "to throttle up on its inexpensive devices within the China market," he added, "and for Apple to leverage its position as the leading smartwatch provider worldwide."

What Llamas can't answer is whether the two companies will maintain their frontrunner position. "With a user base of 50 million, a strong presence within corporate wellness and assets that keep it top of mind for digital health, Fitbit is well positioned to move into new segments and markets," he said.

Apple is experiencing sustained interest in its watches two years after it introduced its original Apple Watch. There was no "Apple Watch 3" announced during its recent developers conference. However, the company did announce a planned software update; watchOS 4, expected to roll out for free to all of Apple's watch models this fall, will have a new interface with Siri built in, new watch faces and some tweaks to its activity app.

The bulk of Xiaomi's market is China, where the company ships 96 percent of its wearables products. In March the company announced its "90 Minutes Ultra Smart Sportswear," running shoes embedded with Intel's Curie chip, designed for wearables, to measure distance traveled, steps taken, speed and calories burned.

For its part Fitbit hasn't given up on the fitness tracker segment. The launch of the Alta HR in March introduced heartrate tracking and sleep monitoring features. IDC said it anticipated "recent acquisitions of Coin, Pebble and Vector" to morph into the company's first smartwatch.

Samsung's meteoric growth was driven, according to IDC, by its Gear S3 Frontier and Classic smartwatches, which made its full-quarter debut in many markets. Two additional product lines, the IconX headphones and Gear Fit 2 fitness band, helped widen the company's marketshare.

Currently, producers are still "seeding wearables" in the market, added Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. "It's all about getting people accustomed to the idea of wearing a device."

The next stage "will be all about putting user data to good use," he said. "This is when step counts translate into healthier hearts and minds. And it's also when we will start to see devices that actually augment our abilities and make our lives easier or more productive rather than just being another screen we keep an eye on."

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