Top smartwatch brands like Apple, Fitbit are pivoting to healthcare, IDC says

The wearables market experienced double-digit growth in the third quarter of 2018, driven in part by brands launching new products in the healthcare space, according to a market research report.

For the report, market research firm IDC tracked global shipments and market share of major wearables developers. There were 32 million wearable device shipments in the third quarter, up nearly 22 percent from the same period last year. The top five companies in the market were Xiaomi (Beijing), Apple (Cupertino, Calif.), Fitbit (San Francisco), Huawei (Shenzhen, China) and Samsung (Seoul).

The U.S., which was the second-largest regional market for wearables shipments after China, experienced a year-over-year market decline of 0.4 percent during the third quarter. IDC attributed this drop to the U.S. market's transition from one focused on new users purchasing devices, to one that relies on offering replacement devices and upgrades to returning customers.

"The U.S. market — while slowing down — presents an opportunity for vendors to offer more featured and higher-priced devices to current users and possibly to recapture old ones," said Ramon Llamas, research director for IDC's wearables team.

One way wearables brands — particularly those offering smartwatches — have been bolstering their products is by adding medical features. Given the healthcare industry's high regulatory bar, a shift toward medical use allows market leaders "to further cement their lead," explained Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers.

In September, Apple unveiled an FDA-cleared electrocardiogram sensor as part of the Apple Watch Series 4 release, making it the company's first smartwatch approved for medical use. Fitbit, which launched a health coaching service to help hospital patients manage chronic conditions in September, has been building up its sleep tracking features for years.

"The healthcare market is quickly becoming the next frontier for wearables brands to conquer," Mr. Ubrani added.

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