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Wearable growth slowed — but not stopped — by pandemic

Brian Heater
·2-min read
NEW YORK,NY - MARCH 1: Fitbit unveils Alta HR, the world's slimmest fitness wristband with continuous heart rate, as well as two new sleep tracking features "Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights " at an event hosted by actress and dancer Julianne Hough on March 1, 2017 at SWERVE Fitness in New York. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Fitbit)
NEW YORK,NY - MARCH 1: Fitbit unveils Alta HR, the world's slimmest fitness wristband with continuous heart rate, as well as two new sleep tracking features "Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights " at an event hosted by actress and dancer Julianne Hough on March 1, 2017 at SWERVE Fitness in New York. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Fitbit)

Growth in the wearable sector has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to other hardware categories like smartphones and PCs, however, the space actually fared reasonably well. According to new projections from ABI Research, device shipments are expected to be up 5% year-over-year in 2020.

That single-digit growth is, however, significantly less than the 17% predicted for the year — not to mention the 23% it saw between 2018 and 2019. Manufacturers are now expected to ship 254 million devices in 2020, up from last year’s 241 million. The biggest change in the first quarter is that people simply weren’t buying non-essentials. Here in the States, the pandemic has had a knock-on effect of some 40 million unemployment claims.

Anecdotally, I expect there’s also less interest in purchasing things like fitness trackers in a time when people are being actively discouraged from leaving the house — not to mention the fact that all of the gyms have temporarily closed. There's something existentially troubling in seeing that you've only hit 3% of your step count each day. That said, a potential slide has been hampered by increased interest in tracking one’s own personal health.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a higher health awareness to all individuals around the world,” says ABI’s Stephanie Tomsett. “Wearables with advanced health-monitoring features will begin to buoy the wearables market in the second half of 2020 and pave the way for 289 million wearable shipments by 2021 and 329 million by 2022 as the world recovers from the pandemic.”

Certainly devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit products are being taken more seriously as healthcare products, courtesy of features like EKG readings and oxygen-level readings. Companies have also been working with research groups for COVID-19 studies.