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Apple leads the way as the wearable market grows by 27.5%

The wearables market had a very strong year in 2018, according to new stats revealed by market-research business IDC.  The sector enjoyed a 27.5% growth over the year, and a 31.4% year-on-year improvement in Q4 alone.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that smartwatches have finally hit the mainstream – although they did account for 29.8% of wearable sales over the year – wristbands and ear-worn devices were also included in the list.

Of the 172.2 million units shipped in 2018, 46.2 million of those belonged to Apple, giving the company behind AirPods and the Apple Watch a healthy 26.8% of the market overall. Those numbers give the company a buoyant 39.5% year-on-year growth.

Related: Best smartwatch

But the company can’t rest too easily, because some of its rivals saw even more spectacular increases, even if their overall shipping numbers still fall some way behind. The main threat comes from China, where Xiaomi took second place with 23.3 million units shipped – a 44.6% year-on-year increase. Huawei took fourth place with an astonishing 147.3% increase, jumping from 5.8 million units shipped in 2017 to 11.3 million in 2018. Samsung took fifth position, itself seeing 85.1% growth, jumping from 5.8 million units to 10.7 million.  

Rounding up the top five is Fitbit in third place. I’ve left the fitness tracker company last because it’s story is a little more complicated. While it saw a 10% drop over the year as a whole (falling from 15.4 million units in 2017 to 13.8 million last year), the strong growth it showed in the final quarter suggests it’s back on the right track. According to IDC, the release of the Charge 3, the continued strong sales of the Versa and its partnerships with health companies pushed it towards 3% growth on Q4 2017.

But it’s earbuds and headphones that were the real success story of the year, according to IDC. “The market for ear-worn wearables has grown substantially this past year and we expect this to continue in the years to come,” said Jitesh Ubrani, a senior research analyst at IDC Mobile Device Trackers.

Related: Best true wireless earbuds

“It is the next battleground for companies as these types of headphones become a necessity for many given the exclusion of headphone jacks from modern devices. Add to that the rise of smart assistants and in-ear biometrics and companies have the perfect formula to sell consumers on a device that’s complimentary to the device ecosystem that lives on their wrist and in their pocket.”

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