IDC: Smartwatch shipments halved in Q3 2016

If shipment figures are any indicator, it would seem that the market, both consumers as well as manufacturers, are still uncertain about smartwatches and their purpose, let alone their appeal. According to market analyst IDC, the smartwatch market slipped by as much as 51.6% in the past quarter alone. And while that may be due partly to perplexing business decisions from the powers that be, it also reflects how smartwatches, more than two years after they became mainstream, still serve a very niche consumer market.

In the third quarter of 2015, smartwatch shipments numbered 5.6 million. Fast-forward to this year, that figure is slashed down to 2.7 million. IDC attributes that decline to two factors.

The first one is timing. Google has unexpectedly delayed the rollout of Android Wear 2.0, a much-needed refresh of the wearable platform, to 2017. This has left many manufacturers uncertain about launching new devices for the holidays, as those would necessarily only run the older Android Wear version. Meanwhile, Apple's Watch 2 didn't make it to the third quarter and Samsung's Gear S3 hasn't launched either. The best case scenario is that numbers would pick up just a bit next quarter when the two new smartwatches do become available.

The other factor is a general confusion about smartwatches. Unlike fitness trackers, smartwatches aim to be jacks of all trades. While the idea of having just everything in one device is indeed fascinating, very few find value in a purely digital watch that needs to be recharged every so often. In contrast, fitness trackers provide a simple, focused purpose and isn't always as critical as a timepiece.

As for actual numbers, Apple unsurprisingly sits at the very top, despite also demanding the highest price for its Apple Watches, shipping 1.1 million wearables. That's 41% of the entire quarter's shipments. Surprisingly, Garmin is at second spot, climbing from 5th last year. That means that Samsung was pushed down to third and Lenovo to fourth. Pebble fans will be happy to learn that the startup is still in the running at fifth.