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Wearable Tech

Fitness bands, smartwatches pick up pace with consumers

The wearables market is maturing, says IDC, leading to a 67 percent jump in worldwide shipments last quarter.

Are you seeing more and more people donning gadgets like smartwatches and fitness trackers? So is research firm IDC.

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The appeal of wearable devices continues to grow.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the first quarter of the year, shipments of wearables rose 19.7 million units, a bounce of 67 percent from the 11.8 million units shipped during last year's first quarter, IDC reported on Monday.

The quarter was marked by several strategies designed to capture more customers, the research firm said. For example, a variety of new fitness trackers and smartwatches took the stage at several tech shows. And prices for the Apple Sport Watch and other devices were cut following the holidays.

The wearables market also expanded last quarter to include such items as smart clothing and smart footwear.

Wearable devices are still niche gadgets, but the rise in shipments indicates that more consumers are seeing value in them. Fitness trackers made by top players such as Fitbit and Garmin have traditionally outsold smartwatches. But smartwatches are starting to catch up in terms of market share without cutting into the actual sales of fitness bands, indicating there's room for both types of devices.

"It's shortsighted to think that basic wearables and smartwatches are in competition with each other," Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC's Mobile Device Trackers, said in a statement. "Right now, we see both as essential to expand the overall market. The unique feature sets combined with substantial differences in price and performance sets each category apart, and leaves plenty of room for both to grow over the next few years."

Fitbit is still the dominant player, having shipped 4.8 million devices last quarter, up from 3.8 million for the year-ago quarter. Chinese wearables maker Xiaomi stole second place from Apple, shipping 3.7 million units, up from 2.6 million.

Apple shipped 1.5 million units of its smartwatch, which didn't exist during last year's first quarter, though the number was far below the 4.1 million units shipped during the fourth quarter of last year. Ubrani pegged the drop on the usual post-holiday downturn. However, the analyst also pointed to rumors around Apple's March event as consumers were waiting to see what would be announced about the watch.

"Lastly, though the smartwatch market has doubled since last year, consumers are still a bit cautious as they don't quite consider the smartwatch to be a 'must have' device," Ubrani added.

However, Apple did score first place among other smartwatch makers. Until the next version of the watch debuts, the company is likely to keep updating its watch bands to "keep the product relevant," IDC said.


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IDC

Garmin took home the third spot with 900,000 shipments of its fitness trackers. Samsung and China's BBK, known for its kids' smartwatches, tied for last place with shipments of 700,000 each. Overall, 3.2 million smartwatches shipped last quarter, up from 1.6 million over the same quarter last year, IDC said.

Updated at 1:15 p.m. PT: with more information from Ubrani about Apple Watch sales.