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The global wearables market will grow nearly 100% to reach 222.3 million shipments in 2021, up from 113.2 million in 2017, according to a new report from the IDC.

The wearables shipments estimates are based on wrist-worn wearables, ear-worn wearables (excluding basic Bluetooth headphones), and connected clothing. Here are some of the most notable takeaways from the report:

  • Ear wearables are going to see the greatest growth by 2021. The earwear wearables segment is expected to see growth of 524% from 1.7 million shipments in 2017 to 10.6 million in 2021. This category will blossom as smartphone manufacturers continue to eliminate the standard audio jack, and as more major tech manufacturers make earpods imbibed with voice assistants. Apple currently leads the ear wearables market with its AirPods, which are wireless headphones optimized for Siri. Google, Samsung, and Amazon are all working on their own ear wearables products or partnering with third parties to integrate their voice assistants in hearables made by other vendors. While ear wearables will see the greatest growth of all wearable segments, the 10.6 million units expected to ship in 2021 is still a far cry from a mass-market technology, and represents about a tenth of the volume of wrist-worn wearables expected to ship that year.
  • Wrist-worn wearables will continue to command the lion’s share of wearables shipments in 2021, but the most popular versions of wrist-worn wearables will change. As the collective wrist wearable market grows 85% from 106.5 million in 2017 to 197.2 million in 2021, basic fitness wristbands will lose their lead as the most popular wrist-worn wearable. Instead, basic watches — or standard fashion watches integrated with connectivity and tracking features — will become the most popular wrist wearable (see chart, below). Smartwatches will grow their share of all wrist-worn wearables, but will see more conservative growth than its fashion-watch counterpart. In 2021, basic watches will account for 40% of all wrist-worn wearables shipments, smartwatches will account for 36%, and fitness bands will account for 24%.

According to the IDC estimate, head-worn wearables such as Snap’s Spectacles or AR headsets will not make a splash between 2017 and 2021. The IDC forecast lumps these categories under its “Other” designation, which is forecast to grow 11% from 2.7 million unit shipments in 2017 to 3 million in 2021. The “Other” category also includes smart wristbands that don’t run third-party apps and other less popular wearables varieties.

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The Next Smartphone by the BI Intelligence Research Team.
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