Turns out, nobody knows how many smartwatches are being sold

Are smartwatches proving popular, or are they a failing fad? Well, as far as sales figures go it’s hard to tell as analysts can’t seem to agree on whether they’re up or down. 

In late October IDC published a report which said that smartwatch shipments had dropped by over 50% since 2015, however, another analyst firm, Canalys, says they’ve actually risen by 60%.

Where IDC said that shipment numbers had fallen from 5.6 million in Q3 2015 to just 2.7 million in Q3 2016, Canalys say that actually shipments for Q3 2016 have reached 6.1 million. 

An Apple sale a day keeps naysayers at bay

Despite the large difference in estimations of overall sales figures, both firms at least agree that Apple is the market leader, with Canalys saying they make up 46% of smartwatch sales and IDC estimating 41%. 

As far as establishing who holds the rest of the market share, the firms can’t seem to agree on this either. After Apple, Canalys say that Samsung hold the next biggest share at 18%, followed by Fitbit (17%), Garmin (3%) and Pebble (2%). IDC on the other hand places Garmin ahead of Samsung with 21% and 14% respectively, with Lenovo and Pebble trailing behind at 3% each. 

From its data analysis, IDC concludes that it’s becoming apparent that smartwatches “are not for everyone”. It does, however, acknowledge that the market is quite different compared to this time last year; while Apple’s first smartwatch had widespread retail availability in Q3 2015, its second iteration hadn’t launched until the end of Q3 2016. 

In addition to this, it says Google’s decision to delay the launch of Android Wear 2.0 is holding back device launches and has “left vendors relying on older, aging devices to satisfy customers.“

Canalys agrees that the Android Wear delay has had a significant impact on shipment numbers, adding that it’s likely that the “iPhone’s slowing momentum has affected consumer interest in Apple’s smartwatch.”

Interestingly, Canalys found that the smartwatch market in China has grown 42% year-on-year even with the Android Wear delays. It’s attributing this to an increase in the number of affordable options from companies such as Xiaomi entering the market there.  

In light of the late Q3 launch of the Apple Watch Series 2, Canalys is reserving judgement on whether or not smartwatches have a promising future. “Q4 performance will be key to better assessing the long-term prospects of the improved Watch models,” the company said, adding that “Apple needs to make a strong marketing push during the holiday shopping season, especially to highlight new and compelling apps for its platform.”

Considering Apple holds such a large portion of the market share and its Series 1 sales were undoubtedly impacted by the leak of the September Series 2 launch, it would probably be wise holding off judgement on the future of smartwatches until we see the impact of this improved device. 

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Emma Boyle

Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.