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Google boost for Apple as it catches up Fitbit in wearables market

Steve Rogerson
September 3, 2015
 
Google has introduced Android Wear for iOS. This will initially be available on the LG Urbane smart watch , with others from Huawei, Asus and Motorola to follow soon.
 
The news comes as Apple finds itself within striking distance of the established wearable device market leader Fitbit, says the International Data Corporation (IDC).
 
“Now, Android Wear watches work with iPhones,” said David Singleton, director of engineering at Android Wear.
 
According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, Apple shipped a total of 3.6 million units in the second quarter of 2015, just 0.8 million units behind Fitbit's 4.4 million units. Total shipment volume for the quarter came to 18.1 million units, up 223.2 per cent from the 5.6 million units shipped in the second quarter of 2014.
 
"Anytime Apple enters a new market, not only does it draw attention to itself, but to the market as a whole," said Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC's wearables team. "Its participation benefits multiple players and platforms within the wearables ecosystem, and ultimately drives total volumes higher. Apple also forces other vendors – especially those that have been part of this market for multiple quarters – to re-evaluate their products and experiences. Fairly or not, Apple will become the stick against which other wearables are measured, and competing vendors need to stay current or ahead of Apple. Now that Apple is officially a part of the wearables market, everyone will be watching to see what other wearable devices it decides to launch, such as smart glasses or hearables."
 
Apple's arrival had the greatest impact on the smart wearables category, or those devices capable of running third party applications.
 
"About two of every three smart wearables shipped this quarter was an Apple Watch," said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. "Apple has clearly garnered an impressive lead in this space and its dominance is expected to continue. And, although Fitbit outshipped Apple, it's worth noting that Fitbit only sells basic wearables – a category that is expected to lose share over the next few years, leaving Apple poised to become the next market leader for all wearables."
 
In the short history of the wearable market, a clear divide has formed between smart wearables and basic wearables – devices that do not run third-party applications, and includes most fitness trackers. Price and functionality are the main differences between the two categories, and that gap is expected to widen over time. For vendors focused on basic wearables, the challenge will be to compete with the additional features offered by smart wearables while still turning a profit in the price sensitive basic wearables market.
 
Fitbit's has a 24.3 per cent market share and its results read as a list of successes: triple-digit year-over-year worldwide volume growth; double-digit year-over-year worldwide revenue and profit growth; expanded partnerships with corporate wellness groups, fashion, and food companies; and increased visibility in the media. Fitbit resonates with customers because it has remained true to its simple value proposition of tracking fitness to encourage healthier lifestyles rather than promising the multi-purpose functionality that most smart watches have sought.
 
Apple's first appearance in the wearables market finds it in the number two position overall with a 19.9 per cent market share, well within reach of market leader Fitbit. Apple is just getting started with its watch, having reached just 16 geographic markets to date and starting agreements with third-party retailers. But what is most important is the continued development of the WatchOS platform. At its WWDC in June, Apple announced that the next version of WatchOS will allow for native applications, which could have a similar effect that iPhones enjoyed when native apps became available.
 
Third-placed Xiaomi with a 17.1 per cent share made a fairly big splash when it entered the wearables market last year with its Mi Band. Since then its growth has been unstoppable in China as the vendor was quick to introduce rock-bottom prices. Xiaomi recently expanded into markets outside China although its limited distribution channels have been a dampening factor on its growth.
 
In fourth place with a 3.9 per cent share is Garmin, with its laser-like focus on fitness devices for citizen athletes (runners, cyclists and swimmers). It has been successful so far, though increasing competition from the likes of Fitbit and Xiaomi has led to a reduction in share. Garmin's new ConnectIQ platform may help alleviate some of the pressure as it attempts to offer access to third party applications, data fields, watch faces and widgets to customise its wearable devices further.
 
Samsung narrowly edged out Huawei and Jawbone to remain among the top five vendors during the quarter; its market share is 3.3 per cent, down from 14.3 per cent in the same quarter last year. The company saw sustained success with the popularity of its Gear S and Gear Fit devices, and hinted at a massively redesigned Gear S2 to be announced next month. Given Samsung's history of making its latest wearable devices compatible only with Samsung's top models and nearly exclusive reliance on Tizen, the company has limited its potential reach. Whether that trend continues with the Gear S2 will bear close observation.