TWS Biggies Focus on Differentiation to Beat Competition

  • The global TWS market recorded shipments of about 300 million units in 2021. This figure is expected to continuously increase till 2025.
  • Sales in the <$100 segment have increased steadily with the firm growth of emerging local companies such as Skullcandy in the US and boAt in India.
  • On the other hand, sales in the >$150 segment, which can be described as premium product sales, have stagnated.
  • Leading TWS brands like Apple, Samsung, Sony, Sennheiser and B&O, which mainly focus on the >$150 segment, are trying to expand market share by differentiating their products.

Global TWS Market Shipments (Forecast)

Global TWS Market Shipment Forecast

Source: Counterpoint TWS Hearables Market Tracker


TWS Market Share by Price Band

TWS Market Share by Price Band

Source: Counterpoint TWS Hearables Market Tracker


Sales in the sub-$100 segment have increased steadily with the firm growth of emerging local companies such as Skullcandy in the US and boAt in India. On the other hand, sales in the >$150 segment, which can be described as premium product sales, have stagnated. Leading TWS brands like Apple, Samsung, Sony, Sennheiser and B&O, which mainly focus on the >$150 segment, are trying to expand their market share by differentiating products from the low-to-mid-priced ones. Currently, they are strengthening existing functions in such products or adopting new ones.

Samsung and Apple are differentiating their products with enhanced ANC, where users can enjoy the music with reduced fatigue and increased immersion. Samsung has showcased its new Intelligent ANC (IANC) with the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. Unlike the existing ANC, it can effectively remove external noise by analyzing surrounding sound. Apple is equipped with “adaptive transparency” to minimize the intensity of loud noises with its computational algorithms. The two companies did not increase the size of the earbuds while increasing play time. The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro reduced its weight, but it effectively removed external noise with the enhanced ANC function.

Sony introduced a new concept with its LinkBuds, which were released earlier this year. LinkBuds are ring-type driver units that reduce greatly the weight of the product and the fatigue associated with it, making them suitable for daily use. Moreover, users can talk to others without removing the earbuds by using “speak-to-chat”. As music play stops automatically when a conversation is detected, users do not need to press the stop button to talk to others, justifying LinkBuds’ catchphrase “Keep every world on”.

With the TWS market competition intensifying, leading companies are enhancing existing functions or introducing new functions to differentiate their products. In this trend, battery performance is also becoming more important. The battery size should be reduced to accommodate more sensors. At the same time, the battery power needs to be strengthened to implement various functions and maintain play time. It is this conflict that will make the energy density of a TWS more important. It will eventually lead to increased interest in small-size batteries in the TWS market.

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Low-end Models Drive Rebound of Global TWS Shipments in Q2 2022

  • Under $50 low-end models led market growth. Low-end models absorbed the replacement cycle with decent quality.
  • The $100 and above segment’s share decreased noticeably with the weakened buying power due to recession fears, especially in Europe.

Although inflation has reduced the overall demand for tech gadgets, global TWS hearables shipments managed to grow 13% QoQ and 15% YoY in Q2 2022 driven by low-end models in the under-$50 segment, according to the latest data from Counterpoint’s TWS Hearables Market Tracker. Thanks to their low price, entry-level models were not impacted by inflation fears. Emerging markets like India, MEA and Latin America grew QoQ driven by low-end models, while China continues to suffer from a weak economic climate and its Zero-Covid policy. The overall growth of the global TWS market in Q2 2022 was sluggish, especially in YoY terms, due to COVID-19 and weak macroeconomic indicators.

Global TWS Market Shipments, Q1 2020-Q2 2022

Global TWS Market 2022 Q2


Source: Counterpoint Research

With the fear of a lurking recession, affordable TWS models were welcomed by consumers. This meant a big opportunity for low-to-mid-priced brands like Xiaomi, QCY and Skullcandy. As demand for new TWS models still exists in emerging markets, led to growth for the sub-$100 segment in Q2 2022. Xiaomi, in particular, benefited greatly from its broad portfolio focused on entry-level and led the sub-$100 segment. The brand was also able to better absorb the device replacement cycle.

On the other hand, the $100 and above segment contracted noticeably with the decreased buying power due to recession fears, especially in Europe. As the Russia-Ukraine war prolonged, demand for new tech devices decreased. Unit sales of major brands, especially Apple and Samsung, decreased compared to the previous quarter due to a weak economic climate and demand for new Pro models, to be released in H2 2022.


Global TWS Market Share by Brand, Q2 2022

Global TWS Market Share by Brand, Q2 2022


Source: Counterpoint Research

Apple is expected to rebound in H2 2022. As the upcoming Airpods Pro 2 remain as the only alternative model for ANC-enabled Airpods, the former could absorb the demand of its past iteration which was released in 2019.

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 Pro is also expected to receive favorable reviews with its high sound quality and outstanding ANC. Its increased price would pose a big hurdle for the new Galaxy Buds Pro model but is still about $20 cheaper than the AirPods Pro model. If Samsung succeeds in showing decent sales with the increased price, it could prove to be a milestone for its premium brand image in the TWS market.

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Low, Mid TWS Segment Sees Fast Expansion in Q3 2020

  • Global TWS market grew 24% QoQ in Q3 2020. China and Asia-Pacific showed highest growth.
  • Premium TWS brands’ market expansion slowed while low- and medium- priced brands
    strengthened presence in major markets.
  • Chinese smartphone OEMs are expected to continue to expand their share in TWS market.

Global TWS market grew 24% QoQ in Q3 2020 despite the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, according to the Counterpoint Global Hearables (TWS) Market Tracker for Q3 2020. Good show by the low- and mid-price segment aided this growth. Considering the strong seasonality in Q4 with Black Friday and Christmas promotions, the market in 2020 is expected to slightly exceed the initial annual estimate of 220 million units.

Continued content growth and rising mobile video consumption have helped drive TWS demand. Above all, the recent trends of phone makers scrapping the earphone jack in phones and removing earphones from the box are having a large impact on market growth.

In terms of regions, China and AP ex CN (Asia-Pacific excluding China) showed high growth in Q3 2020. NAM (North America) maintained its first place with a 31% share. However, owing to rapid growth in other regions, its share dropped by 5%p compared to Q2 2020.

Exhibit 1: Global TWS Market, Q3 2020

Counterpoint Research Global TWS Market Q3 2020
Source: Global Hearables (TWS) Market Tracker

The sub-$100 price band captured more than half of the total market for the first time, accounting for 56% share in Q3 2020. Awareness of the low- and mid-end models increased due to weak consumer confidence along with the expansion of online channels. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to positively impact demand for budget devices, especially in NAM and China.

Exhibit 2: Market Share by Price Band, Q3 2020

Counterpoint Research Market Share by Price Band Q3 2020
Source: Global Hearables (TWS) Market Tracker

In terms of brands, Apple remained the leader in Q3 2020, but its market share fell by 6%p QoQ to 29%. Shares of other premium TWS brands such as Samsung and Jabra also fell. However, the biggest entry-level brand, Xiaomi, still grew and its four models, including the Redmi AirDots and AirDots S, figured in the global top 10 list of bestsellers in Q3 2020. QCY and JLab also expanded their market presence with strengthened model line-ups and competitive pricing strategies.

Exhibit 3: Global Top 10 Bestsellers, Q3 2020

Counterpoint Research Global Top 10 Bestsellers Q3 2020
Source: Global Hearables (TWS) Market Tracker

Amid the high growth witnessed in the global TWS market in Q3 2020, the low- and mid-priced product lines stood out. Apart from the pandemic-triggered reasons, the decreasing gap between these and premium segments in terms of technologies used, like noise cancellation and connectivity, also played its role.

This trend is expected to continue. Chinese smartphone OEMs such as Xiaomi and realme will continue to grow by focusing on low- and mid-priced TWS products and benefitting from brand recognition and solid distribution networks.

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Samsung Unpacked Event – Lots of Folds, Pixels and 5G

Samsung Unpacked 2020 event had lots of energy and hardware announcements. In an era where it is very difficult to differentiate, Samsung did an admirable job, unveiling four smartphones and updated Galaxy Buds. It was the first Unpacked event for President & Head of Mobile Communications Business, TM Roh.

Here are the key announcements from the event:

Samsung Z Flip at UNPACKED


A New Folding Galaxy:

The event was kicked-off by the elegant Z Flip. It is a radical change from the Galaxy Fold which closed in a ‘book’ format. The Z Flip is a clam-shell foldable. The device is compact, symmetrical, and the first square smartphone since the Nokia 7705 Twist. The device uses ultra-thin glass that folds, according to Samsung, over 200,000 times without stress lines. The clamshell and design are a superior form factor than last year’s ‘book’ fold and Samsung did a much better job protecting the display as it is more recessed. The hideaway hinge is a unique implementation that allows the display angle to be less severe.

The Z Flip has some useful multi-tasking capabilities. Users will get YouTube premium included–a nice enticement. This is not yet a high-volume device. It is $1,380 and it is not 5G-capable. However, each iteration is seeing massive improvements, and this form factor is the future.


Samsung S20 at UNPACKED

S20, S20+, S20 Ultra:

The first Galaxy S launched in 2010—a full decade of Galaxy devices have ensued. The S20 is a sizable upgrade for the new decade. Samsung unveiled three smartphones focusing on camera technology, AI, and 5G.

Key selling points of the S20 family–choose your display size. Display sizes are 6.2 inches for the S20, 6.7 inches for the S20+, and 6.9 inches for the S20 Ultra. The OLEDs are bright, vibrant, and support 120Hz. The S20 feels ‘compact’ relative its brothers and can actually be used with one hand. The S20+ and S20 Ultra, because of the near edge-to-edge display and thinness, feel smaller than 6.7 inches and 6.9 inches.

Camera capabilities are the sexy headlines. First, the device can shoot, share, and view 8k video. It is also possible to crop a single frame from a video. The megapixel wars are back! The Ultra sports a 12MP, 48MP, and a 108MP (ultra-wide angle, telephoto, wide angle). Under the branding name, “space zoom”, the camera configuration can magnify up to 100x. Yes, after 50x it becomes pixelated, but what a feat within the thinness of a phone to have binocular-like zoom.

Not as sexy, but the best utility is ‘single take’. The camera takes multiple shots, chooses the best filters, and the shooter can confirm it is their favorite. The automation is key.

Other key launch day notes:

  • 5G use cases were rare, but video calls with Google Duo will suffice.
  • Remember the early LTE smartphones and their battery performances? Not to fear. These are day-long batteries at 4,000mAh, 4,500mAh and 5,000mAh.
  • All the devices are run by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865. Samsung also chose Qualcomm’s X55 modem as well as Qualcomm’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. In countries where mmWave is needed, Qualcomm’s QTM527 modules are used.
  • LPDDR5 16GB of RAM—this will be utilized for machine learning capabilities. Samsung states it is 30% faster getting data. We will have to trust Samsung for now.
  • 1.5TB of storage is available. This is not overkill considering the S20-series can shoot, store, and play 8k videos. New stabilizer tech will help 8k video smoothness.


Galaxy Buds+

Galaxy Buds+ were unveiled starting at $149.The improvements include an additional mic for improved ambient sounds—there are now three mics. The update Buds are 30% smaller. Samsung believes version two will be more comfortable and fit in the ear better. Need the Buds+ for a run but battery is dead? Rapid charge 1.5 minutes for over two hours of use. Overall battery life improved two-fold.

Samsung Galaxy Bud+ at UNPACKED

More details after we test the devices further. For volume expectations, see here.

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