The Apple Watch and the Apple AirPods are the clear leaders in their respective categories and are two of Apple's fastest-selling devices. The timepiece is not only the number one smartwatch on the planet, it is also the number one watch period. Even those iconic watch brands that you grew up not being able to afford such as Rolex, and those that had useful technology for the times like Casio, are eating Apple's dust. And by releasing the AirPods Pro last October, the company was able to include Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) with its wireless Bluetooth in-ear accessory.
According to Bloomberg, last year Apple's AirPods made up nearly half of the sales in the true wireless (TWS) earphones category. But with competition coming from China in the form of low-priced wireless earbuds, Apple now owns 35% of the market followed by Xiaomi's 10%, and the 6% slice of the pie that Samsung controls. These are the latest figures computed by Counterpoint Research. Some of the lower-priced Chinese brands have features that you'll find on the AirPods such as noise cancellation, at a price under the $250 that Apple charges for its premium AirPods. Samsung's new bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live also feature noise cancellation but costs just $170. Samsung says that after a few weeks of being available in the marketplace, 300,000 pairs of the Galaxy Buds Live have been shipped. Of course, to be fair, we should mention that some of these units were shipped to customers who purchased one of the new phones in the Galaxy Note 20 series as part of a promotion.
Samsung is expected to hike deliveries of its TWS earbuds by more than double, from 8 million last year to over 17 million this year. Apple's AirPods shipments this year could rise by a significant 21 million pair, from 2019's 61 million to 82 million during 2020. But on a percentage basis that works out to a 34% increase; solid, but nowhere near the better than 100% gain that Samsung might achieve in 2020.
Counterpoint analyst Liz Lee notes, "The low-to-mid end segment including Chinese brands and U.S. makers such as JLab is taking away share from the premium market. We believe that Samsung can attract more users, especially Android phone users, if it provides a wider selection of TWS devices from mid to high-end with at least two or three variations." Google also entered the TWS marker this year with the revised Google Pixel Buds. The original model had wires connecting the left bud to the right bud.
There is more AirPods news today as Apple has applied for a patent called "Portable Listening Device with Sensors." Currently, AirPods users can answer calls or skip tracks by tapping on the earbud or by squeezing the AirPods' stem. The patent application details the use of a touch-sensitive capacitive sensor that will allow the user to employ touch instead of pressure to activate certain features. And using touch-sensitive controls means adding new methods to control a pair of AirPods. For example, if the device is sensitive to touch, it could be sensitive to movement. Thus, lowering the volume on a future pair of AirPods could be a simple as swiping the surface of one of the units with a finger.
Apple is also believed to be developing a way for AirPods users to be alerted in case they face a possible danger by lowering the volume automatically depending on whether both earbuds are partially inserted into the ears, one is partially inserted, or none are. The audio can be lowered in either earbud, both of them, or cut off completely so that the user can hear more ambient noise. For example, if location data determines that the AirPods user is in an area where he/she should be more alert, the audio could be adjusted lower.