IDC announced this week that global wearable unit shipments were 85% higher in Q2 2019 than in the previous year’s quarter rising to 67.7 million devices. Notably, the hearables category of voice assistant connected wireless earbuds and headphones grew 250% and accounted for 46.9% of the entire wearables segment. That figure is up from just 24% of the wearables market a year earlier. “Driving that growth was a slew of new products and consumers who purchased their second wearable, a hearable, to use in parallel with existing watches or wrist bands,” according to the announcement.
“What has been driving the hearables market is the experience,” said Ramon T. Llamas, IDC research director for wearables, in a statement. “Quality audio is still the hallmark of hearables, but additional features – ranging from adjusting audio to smart assistants and health and fitness – increase their value and utility. As prices come down and more features come on board, this next generation of hearables will become the new normal for earphones.”
Apple Leads the Pack
Apple leads the pack in hearables with 50.2% market share in Q2 2019 for its popular AirPods. That is down from 55% in Q2 2018, but even with slight market share erosion, Apple increased unit sales in 2019 by 218%. The new AirPods arrived at the end of Q1 2019 and it looks like it was just in time given the sharp market share fall the company faced during the first part of 2019. New AirPods seem to have brought Apple back on track as half owner of the entire global hearables market.
Samsung is making inroads with its Bixby-enabled Galaxy Buds which led to a temporary boost in sales in Q1 2019 but has mostly held steady at 10% market share, including for Q2 2019. The next closest manufacturer is Xiaomi with 6.5%. Xiaomi’s AirDots are its AirPods knock-offs and are sold mostly in China at a steep discount to the Apple product.
Rumors suggest that Amazon may announce Alexa-enabled earbuds as early as this month and it will be interesting to see if the company can amass measurable market share and shake up Apple’s current stranglehold. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds giveaway with the purchase of new Galaxy 10 smartphones surely helped unit shipment volume in Q1 but it is not clear whether the company can really challenge AirPod’s dominance.
Notably, Google is missing from IDCs forecast. Google Pixel Buds are designed to compete directly with AirPods, but as of the second quarter, the devices only accumulated enough sales to fit into the “Other” category.
A Hearables Definition
IDC also included a definition of hearables as part of its announcement. According to the company, “the device must operate wirelessly and provide stereo sound while also including at least one of the following features:
- Track health/fitness (e.g., Samsung Gear IconX).
- Modify audio, and not just noise reduction (e.g., Nuheara IQbuds).
- Provide language translation on the device (e.g., Waverly Labs).
- Enable smart assistants at the touch of a button or through hotword detection even if the assistant is running on another device such as a smartphone (e.g., Apple’s AirPods and Google’s Pixel Buds)