Sorry wearable tech truthers but smartwatches are not dead

Rightly or wrongly (wrongly), everyone seemed to want the smartwatch to replace or usurp the smartphone. That just hasn’t happened so of course, in our binary brains, they must be useless pieces of plastic and chips.

We’ve seen a couple of reports in the past month or so give us wildly different estimates for smartwatch sales in July, August and September. So we thought we’d sift through them and see what’s what.

The “plunge”

The first study that sent bloggers into a ‘smartwatches are dead’ spiral was released by IDC. At the end of October, its Q3 estimates – estimates, remember – said smartwatch shipments were down 51.6% year-on-year (from 5.6 million to 2.7 million) and Apple Watch sales were down 72% year-on-year for Q3.

Read this: Who is actually buying wearable tech?

Now IDC has been one of the most reliable and respected trackers of wearable tech sales and it was good to see Garmin in second place, Samsung in third for the third quarter. Here’s the thing. If you bought an Apple Watch in August, or even July, when we (and everyone else) were telling you all summer that the second one would launch in September, then you’re a sucker.

No, smartwatches are not dead

In Q3 of 2015, the Apple Watch was still a new bauble; in Q3 of 2016 it was replaced but only two weeks of Series 2 sales count towards Q3.

See also: a delayed Android Wear 2.0 meant fewer new watches and the launch – but not immediate release – of the Samsung Gear S3, the Tizen watch that still isn’t actually on sale.

The “double”

Over at Canalys, things look a little rosier for smartwatches. In fact its estimates for sales in Q3 is 6.1 million on total, over double what IDC reckons was sold.

Canalys sees smartwatch sales as rising by 60%, in fact, from Q3 of 2015 and give Samsung a much bigger slice of the pie.

One difference between the two totals in the reports – 2.7 million and 6.1 million – is that Canalys has Fitbit in third place with 17%.

It’s a simple explanation, really. IDC categorises the Fitbit Blaze as a “basic wearable” which impact the numbers a fair bit. It says: “Devices like the Fitbit Blaze and Withings Activité are excluded since IDC considers these as “Basic Wearables” that do not run third party applications.”

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It’s unlikely Fitbit sold 3 million Blaze watches in three months but that goes some way to making sense of the gap. And IDC’s ‘other’ category totals only 500,000, so clearly these devices don’t make an appearance here either.

Then the question of Canalys’ double becomes should we include smartwatches which don’t run third party apps? We count the Blaze as a fitness tracker/sports watch at a push though it does do notifications from apps like WhatsApp. And it is much more a smartwatch device than a smart analogue Withings. Hmmm.

A couple more things: Canalys has Apple Watch sales at 2.8 million for the quarter, more than IDC’s total sales combined. It put Samsung at 1.1 million, Garmin Vivoactive sales at 200,000 and Pebble sales at 130,000 up to the end of September. No nod for Nixon, Casio et al in there.

Confusion reigns

No, smartwatches are not dead

Then there’s Fitbit which essentially doesn’t think it’s going to make as much money over the Christmas period as analysts were expecting.

Again, it’s pretty much impossible to know whether that’s because of a slowdown in sales for both its bands and its hybrid watch, the Fitbit Blaze, or because the new, sportier Apple Watch Series 2 is eating into tracker sales. James Park denied the latter in Fitbit’s earnings call: “We’re not seeing impact from the competitive situation.”

Fossil just announced 40 new hybrids and smartwatches from brands like Emporio Armani and Diesel. But we have no information on how well its existing Michael Kors, Kate Spade and Skagen watches are doing in stores with that brand power. In August, CCS Insight predicted smart analogue sales will hurt display smartwatches – if anyone has the answer its Fossil.

Until we start getting concrete sales figures, it’s all just (well informed) hot air. But we’ll be looking very closely at sales estimates in early 2017 for Q4 which should include Series 2, Gear S3, Garmin, Fossil and Pebble smartwatch sales over the run up to Christmas.

Analysts agree: “Q4 performance will be key to better assessing the long-term prospects of the improved Watch models,” says Canalys’ Daniel Matte.

We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again. Smartwatches can be a thing without selling in smartphone numbers. It’s not 76 million a quarter or nothing, kids.