As we’ve covered before, smartwatch sales are booming. Sales were up 51% in 2018 the U.S., and a new global report shows there are no signs of slowing down. According to Counterpoint, global smartwatch shipments grew a healthy rate of 48% year-on-year (YoY) in Q1 2019 driven by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Huawei. The Apple Watch saw 49% YoY growth, driven by its latest Series 4 release, which doubled-down on health-related features like ECG, fall-detection, and other stuff.
According to Counterpoint, Apple has 35.8% market share worldwide as of Q1 2019, up slightly from 35.5% in 2018. Samsung is the closest competitor, with 11.1% of the market, up from 7.2% in 2018, thanks to 127% YoY growth. Turns out people like the latest Galaxy watch, with its extended battery life, traditional round face, and LTE connection capabilities. Fitbit sits at fourth with 5.5% of the global smartwatch market.
As I’ve said before, smartwatches are a big deal. But mostly, the Apple Watch is a big deal. Digitization and the internet have created winner-take-all-dynamics in any number of markets, and I think smartwatches are another category where this is true. Apple benefits not only from economies of scale, but also network effects: while the network effects of the Apple Watch aren’t as powerful as for the iPhone (where developers go where the users are, and developers go where the users are, and Apple connects the two), there is still some effect. Perhaps most important is human psychology. We want what our neighbor has, and with Instagram.com, social media, etc., we’re trained to want all kinds of things every time we scroll. See enough friends with #fitspo posts and the Apple Watch subtly strapped to their wrist, and you think you need one to live that lifestyle.
By the way, this dynamic is at play in the mechanical watch world as well. Rolex, Patek, and a select few other brands have benefited greatly from social media and the internet, while the “middle class” has struggled.
But, the internet also uniquely enables a “long tail” of niche companies and brands to succeed. It’s easier than ever for a brand, cause, whatever to find individuals who identify with it, mobilizing them into often cult-like fandom. Microbrands and vintage watch brands raised from the dead are but two examples of this phenomenon.
Anyway, back to smartwatches. Apple is the winner here — and perhaps in other wearables categories as well — AirPods anyone? But will there be smaller, niche smartwatch companies as well? it remains to be seen. These niche players need to have a clear value proposition, and right now the only real one for smartwatches is fitness, which Apple has cornered. An always-there virtual assistant is another option that’s been thrown around, but that’s not proven itself out yet (who really wants/needs Siri all the time? She kind of sucks).
In the meantime, I’ll keep wearing my mechanical watches during the day, and my Apple Watch at the gym.