Worldwide shipments of wearable devices jumped nearly 90% year on year to 336.5 million in 2019, with Apple boosting its overall share thanks to its best selling AirPods while top Chinese maker Xiaomi lost some ground, according to market research firm IDC.

Last year also marked a move towards so-called hearables, such as AirPods from Apple, with the US company leading the overall global wearables market with a 31.7% share, up from 27% a year before, mainly thanks to a refreshed line up of AirPods, AirPods Pro and Apple Watch, according to the report published Tuesday.

Hearables were a hit last year due to new product introductions and more smartphones cutting the cord with traditional earphones. (Picture: Handout)

Xiaomi, famous for its affordable watches and wristbands, maintained second spot even though its market share declined slightly to 12.4% from 13.1%. IDC said the proportion of wristbands within Xiaomi's overall wearables portfolio fell to 73.3% in the fourth quarter from 81.8% a year earlier, “reflecting a growing trend towards hearables and, to a lesser extent, watches landing in China.”

“Hearables were the big story due to new product introductions and more smartphones cutting the cord with traditional earphones, practically driving users to purchase a hearable. Not to be overshadowed were smartwatches and fitness trackers, which both posted record annual volumes from an abundance of lower-cost models,” said Ramon Llamas, research director for IDC’s wearables team.

Samsung Electronics and Huawei Technologies came in at third and fourth place, both seeing an uptick in market share, from 6.9% to 9.2%, and 6.3% to 8.3%, respectively.

Key to Samsung’s gains were its Galaxy Active and Active 2 smartwatches, and the strategy to bundle wearables with its smartphones, which helped strengthen its distribution with carriers.

Wristbands accounted for the vast majority of Huawei's shipments in the sector but the company added several new hearables to its portfolio, helping it stay aligned with other market leaders, IDC said.

Analysts say the wearable industry will be adversely affected this year by the novel coronavirus epidemic. “The shipping volume of wearables in China, an important manufacturing hub, will be affected negatively to a certain degree,” said Sophie Pan, research manager of IDC China.