Well, there’s one tech sector doing well during coronavirus pandemic: smartwatches.

Yep, according to a report from Strategy Analytics, global smartwatch shipments have grown 20% over the past year. In terms of actual units, those from 11.4 million in Q1 2019, to 13.7 in Q1 2020.

Let’s be honest, a 20% rise sounds far better than shifting an extra 2.7 million units, but hey, what can you do?

To put this in perspective, IDC found that worldwide smartphone shipments went down by 11.7% in Q1 of this year. Despite this drop, there were still 275.8 million devices shipped. Effectively, smartwatches are still small business in the grand scheme of things.

The question then is this: Why have smartwatch shipments bucked the pandemic downtrend?

Well, Steven Waltzer — a Senior Analyst at Strategy Analytics — said “despite considerable headwinds from the Covid-19 scare…  many consumers have been using smartwatches to monitor their health and fitness during virus lockdown.”

That makes sense.

BUT, it’s important to remember that these sales are from January, February, and March — really only the very beginning of the pandemic in the West. For example, the UK only announced its lockdown on March 23.

The real test for the resiliency of the smartwatch market will be the Q2 sales.

What brands recorded the best smartwatch shipments in Q1 2020?

Wow, I’m so glad you asked.

Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with people’s wrists, the Apple Watch is the king of smartwatches. In comparison to this time last year, the company’s smartwatch shipments rose by 23%.

In the first three months of this year, Apple sold 7.6 million smartwatches, up from 6.2 million in the same period in 2019. This gives them a 55% market share — up from 54% last year.

Basically, Apple is killing it. Yes, the Apple Watch is still a drop in the ocean compared to iPhone sales, but Mr. Apple himself will be pleased that it’s got this market sewn up at the moment.

Now, the next two “leaders” in the smartwatch shipment battle are Samsung and Garmin.

Samsung — which has the number two spot — saw its smartwatch shipments rise from 1.7 million in 2019, to 1.9 million this year. Still, the Korean tech giant saw its market share slide from from 15% to 14%. Awful.

The surprise entry, to me at least, is Garmin. The company hit third place in smartwatch shipment for the first time in two years (wow, that’s a lot of numbers). The company shipped 1.1 million smartwatches in Q1 2020, which is a hefty 38% rise over the 0.8 million they flogged last year.

One of the reasons for this, according to Stategy Analytics at least, is the success of Garmin’s new models, like the Venu.

garmin venu smartwatch shipment
This is the Garmin Venu and now I want one.

I guess… congrats? Garmin? Third place is pretty cool.

Will this smartwatch growth persist?

It’s a tough one to call. I’d be surprised if premium smartwatches (like, you know, the Apple Watch) continue this level of growth while folks are undergoing pandemic-driven financial difficulties.

But, on the other side of this, the number of smartwatch shipments are low compared to phones, so there is still a lot of growth potential in the market. Maybe.

I wouldn’t hold your breath though — Q2 2020 is unlikely to be a good time for many tech companies, and there’s no reason why smartwatches would be different.

Where there might be a some daylight though is with entry-level fitness trackers.

There are now a wealth of low-cost, but high-performance smartwatches — like the Honor Band 5 for example — that could see a huge swell of public attention. Effectively, they could help people stay fit and active while under lockdown, without being a purchase you need to save for.

Anyway, while this rise in smartwatch shipments is a good thing, it’s also important to remember that we’re not talking about big numbers here.

Thought everyone would be wearing a smartwatch these days? Me too, but it hasn’t panned out that way. The market still has a lot of potential for growth, but it’s questionable just how necessary the wider public sees the technology.

But let’s take the good news while we can; Q2 2020 is undoubtedly going to be a shitter for everyone.

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Published May 7, 2020 — 10:39 UTC

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