SAN FRANCISCO—Worldwide shipments of wearable devices surged by nearly 18 percent in the first quarter as both the high-end Apple Watch and a slew of low-cost devices gained traction among consumers, according to market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC).
Apple Inc. and Xiaomi Inc. have surpassed Fitbit Inc.—the early leader in wearables shipments—and now control nearly 15 percent of the market apiece, IDC (Framingham, Mass.).
Ramon Llamas, research man ager for IDC's Wearables team, said through a press statement that consumer tastes in wearables have evolved from fitness bands to smartwatches and other products, fueling growth for the product category.
"This allowed Xiaomi to throttle up on its inexpensive devices within the China market and for Apple to leverage its position as the leading smartwatch provider worldwide," Llamas said. "Now that Xiaomi and Apple have supplanted Fitbit, the next question is whether they will be able to maintain their position."
Companies shipped 24.7 million wearable devices in the first quarter, up from 20.9 million in the first quarter of last year, according to IDC's wearables market tracker.
Llamas said Fitbit remains a key player in the wearables market despite being outpaced by Apple and Xiaomi in recent quarters.
"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," Llamas said.
Jitesh Ubrani, a senior research analyst for IDC, said the wearables market is still arguably in its first phase of development, where companies are seeding the market and trying to get consumers accustomed to wearing a device.
Earlier this year, Llamas said the wearables market is shifting and would enjoy a very strong 2017 thanks to the addition of cellular connectivity in wearable devices and a slew of new products on the market, including fashionable watches that resemble more classic wristwatches as opposed to high-tech devices.
Ubrani said the current market wearables opportunity makes it very enticing for traditional and fashion watch brands,
Ubrani said the second phase of development of the wearables market would be all about putting the user data accumulated by wearables to good use.
"This is when step counts translate into healthier hearts and minds," Urbani said. "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."
—Dylan McGrath is the editor-in-chief of EE Times.