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IDC Boosts Wearables Forecast for 2019

Evan Niu, CFA, The Motley Fool

A few months back, market researcher IDC estimated that the global wearables market would approach -- but not top -- 200 million units in 2019, driven largely by watches, ear-worn wearables, and wristbands. A lot can change in three months, and the wearables market is doing so well that IDC has just boosted its 2019 forecast. The firm now believes global wearables shipments will hit 222.9 million, up from the prior forecast of 198.5 million. By 2023, the market may grow to 302.3 million units, up from a prior estimate of 279 million.

It's going to be a few booming years for wearables makers.

Woman sitting in a silver bean bag chair while using AirPods 2

Earwear got the biggest upward revision. Image source: Apple.

Ear-worn wearables will see the most growth

In terms of product category, watches are still expected to dominate volumes, with Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) leading the way with its Apple Watch. The company recently detailed watchOS 6 at its WWDC 2019 developer conference, with the next version getting a dedicated App Store and menstrual cycle tracking, among other improvements. The Cupertino tech giant is expected to grab over 25% smartwatch market share in 2023, and cellular connectivity continues to drive demand.

"Not only is the market diversifying in terms of form factors, but it is also diversifying in terms of connectivity and distribution," IDC research manager Jitesh Ubrani said in a statement. "Among all watches, close to half will have the ability to connect to a cellular network by 2023 as consumers along with enterprises and healthcare look to free the watch from the phone and as telcos push forward subsidies or financing options for watches with cellular service."

If you look at the different categories, the biggest revision from IDC's March forecast was in earwear. IDC research director Ramon Llamas added, "Ear-worn devices, while still centered on providing audio, will nudge into other areas like language translation, smart assistant deployment, and coaching."

Product Category

March Estimate for 2019 Volumes

June Estimate for 2019 Volumes

Watch

90.6 million

91.8 million

Earwear

54.4 million

72 million

Wristband

49 million

54.2 million

Clothing

3 million

N/A*

Others

1.7 million

5 million

Total

198.5 million

222.9 million

Data source: IDC. Figures may not sum due to rounding. *Clothing now included in Others.

In somewhat unfortunate timing, Apple had two earwear product announcements shortly after IDC released its March estimate. The tech titan unveiled AirPods 2 just a few days later, followed by Beats Powerbeats Pro a couple weeks after that. Both announcements undoubtedly jump-started the market with renewed demand. AirPods 2 and Powerbeats Pro both include a new wireless chip for better performance and hands-free activation of Apple's virtual assistant Siri.

"Interest in AirPods has been off the charts and we're working hard to catch up with incredible customer demand," CFO Luca Maestri said on the April earnings call.

Growth in wristbands should be fairly flat through 2023, with Chinese vendors Xiaomi and Huawei carrying the market, as over half of wristband unit volumes will be in China. Consumers in developed markets have been switching to smartwatches.

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Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.