The wearables market saw growth dip in the second quarter due partly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many parts of the economy are starting to recover, however, despite the ongoing surge in cases across many parts of the world. That contributed to a notable recovery in wearables volumes in the third quarter. The pandemic has actually heightened demand for wearables.

Here's what tech investors need to know.

Bottom of Apple Watch Series 6.

Apple Watch Series 6. Image source: Apple.

Preparing for the holidays

Worldwide wearables unit volumes jumped by 35% in the third quarter, according to the latest estimates from IDC. That represents acceleration from the 14% growth the market registered in the second quarter, which was down from 30% growth in the first. IDC said that seasonality and new product launches impacted the growth rebound.

Apple launched its Apple Watch Series 6 and SE near the end of the quarter in mid-September. Samsung introduced its Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Watch 3. The South Korean tech giant is making gains across both categories of hearables and smartwatches.

Apple's market share slipped modestly on a sequential basis, but retains a commanding lead overall. Here were the top vendors during the third quarter.


Q3 2020 Shipments

Q3 2020 Market Share

YOY Growth


41.4 million



Xiaomi (OTC:XIACY)

17 million




13.7 million




11.2 million



Fitbit (NYSE:FIT)

3.3 million




3.3 million




35.3 million




125 million



Data source: IDC.

"Many countries began easing restrictions and opening up their economies during the third quarter, which helped bolster outdoor activity as well as demand for wearables," IDC research manager Jitesh Ubrani said in a release. "Meanwhile, a broader range of price points from numerous vendors meant that there was something for everyone."

The data also indicates that there were many first-time wearables buyers in both developed and emerging markets, according to IDC's Ramon Llamas. As the global installed base grows, upgrades will drive sales over time.

China's Xiaomi leads within the category of wrist-worn wearables, thanks to the popularity of its low-cost basic fitness trackers in The Middle Kingdom. Apple Watch shipments skyrocketed by 75%, as the Cupertino company has been working to make its lineup affordable with offerings like the $279 Apple Watch SE.

Fitbit, which is preparing to be acquired by Alphabet subsidiary Google, launched its Fitbit Sense in August. That device is priced higher than Fitbit's other smartwatches and hopes to challenge the Apple Watch more directly. Google and Fitbit have been attempting to secure regulatory approval, which is taking longer than expected due to antitrust concerns around data usage. The companies have pushed back the timeline and now expect to close the deal in 2021.

With product portfolios updated for the busy holiday shopping season, it's crunch time for wearables makers. IDC previously estimated that total wearables units would approach 400 million in 2020.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.