Smartwatch sales take a plunge as world waits for new devices

It’s been a low period for smartwatches these past few months, with research firm IDC reporting Q3 sales were in a bit of a lull. Overall shipments in the third quarter decreased 51.6% year-on-year, from 5.6 million units to 2.7 million.

Apple managed to keep the top spot for most shipments, but even that had a 72% decline year-on-year. While Q3 last year was the first time the Apple Watch was available widely at retailers, the Apple Watch Series 2 was only on sale for the last two weeks of the same quarter this year, so timing has played an important role.

Meanwhile Garmin is still going strong, coming up in second place for shipments, ahead of Samsung, with the biggest year-on-year increase of all the included companies. IDC notes this was thanks to its growing range of ConnectIQ-enabled smartwatches, along with the launch of the Fenix Chronos.

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In third place, Samsung’s biggest strength is that its Gear S2 smartwatches offer cellular connectivity, notes IDC, which is something many rivals do not. However, the fact the Gear S3 is still not on sale means Samsung has missed out on a stronger quarter.

Alongside the fact Apple Watch Series 2 missed most of the quarter, the delay of Android Wear 2.0 also “has repercussions” for hardware partners, notes IDC. The decision to push the OS update into next year could sway some smartwatch makers to launch later than intended.

As noted in the report, manufactures have been relying on older devices to drive sales. But there’s a tricky tension here: many would argue that smartwatches should last for longer cycles than smartphones, but this would mean recalibrating expectations on sales figures.

Jitesh Ubrani senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, said in the report that it is becoming evident “smartwatches are not for everyone”.

“Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity. However, moving forward, differentiating the experience of a smartwatch from the smartphone will be key and we’re starting to see early signs of this as cellular integration is rising and as the commercial audience begins to pilot these devices.”