Smartwatches Gain Relevance In 2018, But Just Three Brands Dominate

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The Smartwatch market made substantial gains over the course of 2018, according to the most recent report from NPD Group, but the overwhelming majority of the spoils went to just three manufacturers. As many as 88-percent of the wearables sold during that 12-month period bore Apple, Samsung, or Fitbit branding.

Traditional watch manufacturers such as Fossil as well as fitness-focused brands including Garmin have made some headway in the space.

Sales for the year fell in at almost $5 billion with US sales alone rising 51-percent in terms of dollars and 61-percent with regard to total sales.

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Growing relevance

The jump in sales wasn't entirely unpredictable and tracks closely with what other firms have predicted for the smartwatch category of the wearables market. In November, for example, Gartner predicted a 27.71-percent increase in total global smartwatch shipments from 2017's figures, accounting for roughly 29.6-percent of the overall wearables market. International Data Corporation (IDC) made similar estimations toward the middle of 2018.

In both of those cases, the trend has been predicted to continue through 2022, although Gartner speculates that ear-worn wearables will surpass smartwatches by the end of that year.

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NPD Group chalks up the growing relevance of the smartwatch category to the addition of LTE in many top-selling devices. Samsung's prominent Galaxy Watch is among those that feature the network connectivity option, allowing users to leave their smartphone behind and depend more heavily on the wearable itself.

The market research firm notes that the value added in terms of smart home control, notifications, and messaging served as a tipping point as compared to wearables that rely on Bluetooth connectivity between a watch and handset. As many as 15-percent of smartwatch owners claim to utilize their watch to control their IoT ecosystem.

From a demographics perspective, NPD Group's Consumers and Wearables report shows that 4-percent more adults in the US bought into the technology than in 2017 but that teenagers and younger users made the most impact. Approximately 16-percent of 'adults' now own a smartwatch. Among users from age 18 up to age 34, around 23-percent own a smartwatch. That growth is expected to continue in older segments as smartwatches with a more health-focused approach become more common.

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Google isn't even making a ripple

If recent reports turn out to be accurate, that may be at least a partial reasonas to why the company might be considering launching its own Pixel-branded smartwatch at some point in 2019. Industry insiders have said the search giant is actively pursuing the endeavor in order to provide a stronger alternative to Apple's Apple Watch Series 4, although that isn't the company's only problem in that space.

Despite being behind the world's most popular mobile OS and partnering with a significant number of fashion brands on the gadgets, Google's Android-based Wear OS is conspicuously absent from any of the top three manufacturers. Each of the top three companies utilize a proprietary operating system instead, whether that's watchOS, FitbitOS, or Samsung's Tizen.

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If Google hopes to compete, it isn't unreasonable to speculate that it will need to do so with its own hardware and on its own terms.