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Wearable tech saw record sales in first quarter, analysts say

For the first time ever, first-quarter wearable shipments topped 100 million units -- and most of the growth is coming from smaller companies.

The Apple Watch SE.

Market analysts at IDC are pointing out strong sales in the wearable tech category, with device shipments reaching 104.6 million units in the first quarter of 2021. That's 34.4% more than the year before, and the first time first-quarter sales for gadgets like smart watches, connected eyeglasses and fitness trackers have topped 100 million.

Interestingly, IDC notes that though industry titans like Apple and Samsung are maintaining their double-digit shares of the market, it's an influx of smaller names that's driving the gains.

"Larger companies have certainly drawn attention to the worldwide wearables market, yet it is the smaller companies fueling growth," said the research director for IDC's Wearables Team, Ramon T. Llamas. "Rather than compete head-to-head with products similar to the market leaders, these smaller companies have instead focused on specific markets and thrived with different solutions."

Specifically, when it comes to significant market movers, IDC points to companies like BoAt, which focuses on smart ear-wear for the Indian market, and Oura, which makes a fitness-tracking ring popular with major sports teams and enthusiasts. Smaller names like those often fall into the "others" subcategory within the wearable field, and IDC notes that devices in that category saw year-over-year growth of more than 55%.

"Not only is the market being fueled by smaller brands, but newer form factors are also starting to gain some traction," said the research manager for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, Jitesh Ubrani. "Wearable patches, rings and even audio glasses are starting to differentiate themselves from the typical watches, bands and headphones by offering tech that is hidden yet functional."

As for the category leaders, Apple holds the top spot, with a 28.8% market share, down from 32.3% a year before. Samsung sits at second, with 11.3%, slightly up from its 11.2% market share in the first quarter of 2020. Xiaomi comes in at third, with a 9.7% market share, and was the only Top 5 company to experience a year-over-year decline in first-quarter shipments, with the company's gains offset by declining wristband volumes.