Apple knocks Fitbit from perch atop wearables market

The Apple Watch was the best-selling wearable worldwide in the first quarter. (Apple)

It appears the smartwatch market is finally getting legs—for Apple, at least.

Apple overtook Fitbit to become the world’s top seller of wearables during the first quarter of 2017, according to fresh data from Strategy Analytics. Apple claimed 16% of the global wearables market with 3.5 million Apple Watches shipped during the quarter, enjoying a 59% year-over-year increase.

Worldwide wearables shipments grew 21% year over year in the first quarter, the market research firm said, reaching 22 million units thanks largely to increased demand for smartwatches in North America, Western Europe and Asia.

“The new Apple Watch Series 2 is selling relatively well in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere, due to enhanced styling, intensive marketing and a good retail presence,” Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston said in a press release. “Xiaomi shipped 3.4 million wearables for 15% market share worldwide in Q1 2017. Demand for its popular Mi Band fitness range was broadly flat across its core markets of Asia.”

Fitbit was the No. 3 wearables vendor in the world in the latest quarter.

Apple may finally be giving the wearables market a much-needed kick in the pants. Apple’s CFO said earlier this week that sales of the Apple Watch “nearly doubled year over year” during the first quarter, although the company declined to provide sales figures for the product.

Strategy Analytics’ latest figures illustrate a wearables market that appears to be undergoing a significant transition thanks largely to Apple. Fitness bands accounted for 85% of the wearables market in the third quarter of 2016, according to data released by IDC in December. Apple claimed a mere 4.9% of the overall market during that period, while Fitbit accounted for 23% of wearables shipments.

But Fitbit announced plans in January to slash 110 jobs—or 6% of its workforce—as the wearables market foundered. And the company continued to lose its footing in the first quarter as Apple has ascended.

“Fitbit shipped 2.9 million wearables worldwide in Q1 2017, falling a huge 36% annually from 4.5 million in Q1 2016,” Cliff Raskin of Strategy Analytics said. “Fitbit has lost its wearables leadership to Apple, due to slowing demand for its fitness bands and a late entry to the emerging smartwatch market. Fitbit’s shipments, revenue, pricing and profit are all shrinking at the moment and the company has a major fight on its hands to recover this year.”