Working at home appears to be driving more consumers to buy wireless earbuds during the pandemic, as shipments have increased by 68.3 year over year during the first quarter, research firm IDC reports.
The increase specifically applies to what IDC calls “hearables” — or Bluetooth headphones with an additional feature, like the ability to connect to your phone’s voice assistant. Popular products including Apple’s AirPods and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds fall under the category.
“The hearables category was seemingly resilient to the market-suppressing forces caused by COVID-19,” IDC analyst Jitesh Ubrani said in the report.
“Consumers were clamoring for these sophisticated earpieces not only for the ability to playback audio, but also to help them increase productivity, as many of them were forced to work from home and sought ways to reduce surrounding noise while staying connected to their smartphones and smart assistants,” he added.
Indeed, many news programs are now featuring journalists and interviewees wearing Apple AirPods while they speak on TV because the earbuds have dual microphones to enable clear voice calls.
The demand was high enough that hearables made up 54.9 percent of all wearable devices shipped during the first quarter. However, the pandemic was bad news for another product category: smartwatches. According to IDC, COVID-19 disrupted the supply chains that manufacture components for smartwatches, which led to a decrease in product shipments. As a result, both Apple and Samsung posted negative year-over-year growth in the smartwatches category during the first quarter.
In the wearables market, Apple led with a 29.3 percent share while Samsung came in third with a 11.9 percent share. The Google-owned Fitbit, on the other hand, came in fifth on a 26 percent decrease in year-over-year shipments.
“Fitbit declined 26.1 percent during the quarter as much of the company’s production was based in China, which faced supply issues for multiple weeks during the quarter,” IDC said. The other limiting factor is how the company has focused less on smart headphone products.
“While the company remains as one of the leading brands in the wearables space and still has a large user base along with promising tech, the lack of a hearable and strong competition from the likes of Apple and Samsung in key markets has suppressed the company’s ability to grow,” IDC added.