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It's no secret: hearables have been a smashing success, with devices like Apple's (NASDAQ:APPL) AirPods or Samsung's (KRX:005930) Galaxy Buds becoming pretty much ubiquitous. New data from IDC quantifies just how much this market has grown, with the research firm reporting that as of Q4 2019 just over half (55%) of the wearables market now belongs to hearables.
IDC isn't breaking out the specific quarterly data of hearables vs non-hearables in the overall wearables category, but it says there were 118.9 million wearable devices shipped, which represents an 82% growth rate. Wrist-worn devices now represent approximately 44% of the total market, down from 69% last holiday season. Within this subcategory, watches had 15% year-over-year growth while wristbands grew by 18%.
For all of 2019, vendors in the space shipped a total of 336.5 million wearable devices worldwide, resulting in an 89% increase from the 178 million units shipped in 2018. Of these, hearables represented 170.5 million units which reflects a 250% growth over the 2018 numbers. Wristbands finished 2019 with 69.4 million units shipped worldwide, while watches reached 92.4 million units shipped in 2019, up 22.7% from the 75.3 million units shipped in 2018.
Top Five Wearables Companies for Q4 2019
Apple dominated the market in volume for the fourth quarter of 2019 with 43.4 million devices shipped, largely thanks to refreshed versions of its AirPods, AirPods Pro, and Apple Watch lineups. That being said, IDC reports that the Apple Watch declined by 5.2% quarter-over-quarter.
Next up was Xiaomi, which posted shipments of 12.8 million. IDC says that of these 12.8 million devices shipped, approximately 9.4 million (73%) were wristbands. However, the share of wristbands within Xiaomi's overall wearables lineup has declined from the fourth quarter of 2018, when they accounted for 81.8% of shipments.
Samsung came in third place for the quarter with shipments of 10.5 million and an overall market share of just under 9%. Samsung is also a rare example of a company that did not have its shipments driven by hearables. Instead, IDC credits its success this quarter to the popularity of the Galaxy Active and Active 2 smartwatches.
IDC says that Huawei was in a statistical tie with Samsung for the fourth quarter of 2019. Despite the trade war with the US, and the sensitivity of the Huawei brand in certain markets, the Chinese manufacturer saw its shipments jump by almost 63% thanks to the success of the GT2 smartwatch. IDC reported that the company shipped 9.3 million wearable devices for the quarter.
While Fitbit came in fifth place this quarter, the numbers show that the company is actually on the rebound. IDC's report says the company crossed the six million mark for the first time thanks to the release of its Versa 2 and discounted Versa Lite and Ionic. Overall, Fitbit has 5% of the market and posted 7.8% year-over-year growth when compared to 2018.
But Are Hearables Really Wearables?
IDC defines hearables as "devices that operate wirelessly and provide stereo sound while also including at least one of the following features: Track health/fitness, modify audio, provide language translation on the device, or enable smart assistants at the touch of a button or through hotword detection."
Counting all hearables as wearables is a bit disingenuous and comes off as a way to "save" the category which until the breakout growth of devices like the AirPod was on the decline. As Wccftech has argued before, most customers would associate wearables with things like smartwatches or smart bands -- not earphones.
It’s somewhat debatable whether a single function accessory should be counted as a wearable device in its own right. If you rewind back a few years, the category was rapidly softening because anything that wasn't an Apple Watch struggled for success, and AirPods were not yet included in the sizing of the market as the definition IDC uses to define the category recently expanded to include them. During the third quarter of 2017, IDC reported that the worldwide wearable market was set to grow by 7.3% for the year and in 2018 this number dropped down to 6.2%.
To be sure, the "legacy" wearables market is growing as manufacturers create devices that are better aligned with consumer expectations. However, if you remove the hearables category -- the definition of which has recently expanded -- the end result is a market that's not as strong as some would have you believe.