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Folk sure like to stick electric toothbrush heads in their ears: True wireless stereo sales buck coronavirus trends

Shipments soared 86% in Q1, 200 million expected to be shifted this year

Despite the economic effects of the pandemic, true wireless stereo (TWS) devices like earbuds, headphones and speakers have proved robust, with Q1 global shipments up 86 per cent year-on-year to 43.8 million.

Across the board, Canalys stats show all vendors traded well, although there are few highlights. Apple, predictably, is one, with unit sales up 60 per cent to 18.1 million compared to the same period last year.

A lot changed in the hinterlands between the two quarters, including the launch of the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro. It also helps that the AirPods 2 hit shelves in the twilight moments of March 2019, which wouldn't have done much to boost Apple's sales in that quarter while being of some benefit to Q1 2020's figures.

Apple has some competitive advantages its rivals don't have. Although it wasn't the first to launch wireless earbuds (that honour goes to little-known firm Onkyo), it was the first to popularise them, giving AirPods a cultural cachet that other devices lack. AirPods also offer tighter integration with iOS, making them more compelling to iPhone users.

Then there's Huawei, which despite falling towards the bottom of the pack, behind Redmi and Samsung, managed to record incredible shipment growth of 261 per cent in Q1 2020, with two million delivered to the channel. It's worth noting, however, that Huawei has a tendency of bundling accessories (like its GT-series smartwatches) with phone pre-orders. As a result, it's almost certain that shipment growth isn't a result of organic consumer demand.

There's also a larger, more nebulous hole in the market represented by "Others". Shipments by miscellaneous vendors were up 87 per cent to 13.7 million, representing a market share of 31.2 per cent.

Much of that will come from vendors like Jabra, Cambridge Audio, and Sennheiser, but it's indicative of a wider commoditisation in the wireless earbud market. In just a few years, they've transformed from a luxury item to something you can buy on Amazon for less than £20.

Canalys reckons the wireless earbuds sector will deliver over 200 million units this year. ®

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