The Apple Watch conquered all comers and became the most important wearable in the world in 2017.
The iPhone maker flexed its muscles to take over the young wearable space in a relatively short period. Apple only released its first smartwatch in April 2015, and its latest, the Series 3, is just the third iteration of the device.
“Apple has shipped 34.4 million smartwatches worldwide since it entered the category in 2015,” said Canalys analyst Vincent Thielke in an email to Mashable. “In other words, Apple accounts for 51.6 percent of all smartwatches ever shipped.”
These numbers comes from Canalys’ estimates, not an official tabulation from Apple itself, since the company doesn’t publicize total Apple Watch sales — but the estimates still point to dominance in the wearables space, where smartwatches currently reign supreme.
The Apple Watch’s success is certainly a result of the company’s status as one of the most popular (and valuable) brands in the world, but it wasn’t Apple’s branding presence alone that made it the wearable king in 2017.
Third time’s the charm
The biggest reason Apple won the wearable war this year was the realization of the Apple Watch’s potential as a standalone device.
The addition of LTE connectivity finally showed skittish consumers that the company was willing to cut the link between the smartwatch and the iPhone. Standalone functionality has long been a point of contention for those who couldn’t justify such an expensive device that only served as an extension of the smartphone in their pocket.
Apple isn’t the first with smartwatch with LTE connectivity — LG and Samsung have both released their own standalone devices — but Apple’s market clout helped the feature make more of an impact. Thielke thinks the brand was helped by its strong ties with all of the major wireless carriers, which he said has been essential to showcase the new functionalities.
Another of the keys to Apple’s success has been its ability to expand its focus beyond fitness and into wider health categories.
“We’re flipping the page and looking at health,” IDC Research Manager Ramon Llamas told Mashable on a phone call. “People want to know more about themselves and how they can lead a better life.”
Llamas said an industry-wide focus on health features is giving consumers more value and functionality than the simplistic fitness trackers that once dominated the market, and Apple is leading the charge.
The company teamed up with Stanford researchers for a heart health research study, and the FDA just cleared a mobile electrocardiogram (EKG) band accessory for the Apple Watch from AliveCor. Apple’s top-secret health facility is centered around collecting data for the smartwatch, and rumors about Tim Cook sporting a special glucose-tracking prototype could hint at even more revolutionary features.
Thinning of the herd
But the Series 3 isn’t perfect. The device is expensive, and a monthly data plan costs extra on top of the already steep purchase price. Apple even admitted in a rare moment of fallibility there was a glitch in how the service worked at launch, although the issue has since been fixed.
The Apple Watch’s shortcomings were trivial compared to the issues faced by other wearable makers during 2017. Competitors faced bigger challenges throughout the year, and some were eliminated from the space entirely.
Fitbit began the year with layoffs and didn’t release the smartwatch CEO James Park promised until October, while old stalwarts like Jawbone, Motorola, and TomTom totally killed off their operations at various points. Android Wear, meanwhile, is a mess that got no better with version 2.0, which was released in February.
More skirmishes on the horizon
Just because Apple won the war in 2017 doesn’t mean that other companies are totally eliminated from relevancy. Llamas isn’t fully convinced of Apple’s dominance, or if its reign will be permanent.
“We’re still only talking about a couple million units quarter in and quarter out,” he said. The war might be over, so to speak, but there’s room for other companies to carve out their own space and take a shot at the king.
Apple wasn’t always on top this year, showing that there is space for other makers. Xiaomi topped the wearables market twice during the year with its cheap fitness trackers, and Fitbit clung on stolidly though its ups and downs.
Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch didn’t drop until October, but it just received a slick new OS update that could actually give consumers a reason to check it out. The company, like Apple, is working to develop health-focused technologies for its smartwatch.
Samsung’s Gear watches could find their own audience, and if Google can find a way to make Android Wear better, other makers like LG could still have a shot at success. The rise of AI could be a major boon here, since Assistant is becoming more ingrained in consumers’ lives through Google’s most recent round of hardware products, and it would make sense for users in the Google ecosystem to open up a spot for it on their wrists.
For now, though, Apple is on top. 2017 was a good year for the company’s wearable efforts, and the future looks bright.
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