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​The worldwide market for wearable devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches rose 10.3% in 2017. The industry shipped 115.4 million units last year, compared with 104.6 million units in 2016.

While double-digit growth is impressive, the year-over-year percentage is less than half the growth posted in 2016 compared with 2017. Slower growth typically favors the big dogs, and that’s just what happened last year. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) lifted its share of the wearables market from 10.8% in 2016 to 15.3%, while former top dog Fitbit Inc. (NYSE: FIT) saw its share dip from 21.5% to 13.3%.

The data were reported last week by tech industry analyst firm IDC. The research director for the firm’s wearables group, Ramon T. Llamas, commented:

The slowdown is not due to a lack of interest – far from it. Instead, we saw numerous vendors, relying on older models, exit the market altogether. At the same time, the remaining vendors – including multiple start-ups – have not only replaced them, but with devices, features, and services that have helped make wearables more integral in people’s lives.

Not only did Apple take the top spot for 2017 shipments, it also posted the most shipments in the fourth quarter, the first time the company has managed to displace Fitbit in quarterly sales. Apple shipped 8 million wearable devices in the fourth quarter compared to 5.4 million shipments from Fitbit. Xiaomi ranked third with 4.9 million units, and Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ: GRMN) ranked fourth with 2.5 million units shipped.

Apple’s fourth-quarter market share totaled 21.0%, to 14.2% for Fitbit, 13.0% for Xiaomi and 6.5% for Garmin. For the full year, Apple led with a 15.3% share while Xiaomi ranked second with a  13.6% share, followed by Fitbit with 13.3%, Garmin with 5.4%, and Fossil Group Inc. (NASDAQ: FOSL) with a 4.3% share.

IDC’s Llamas added:

Interest in smartwatches continues to grow and Apple is well-positioned to capture demand. User tastes have become more sophisticated over the past several quarters and Apple pounced on the demand for cellular connectivity and streaming multimedia. What will bear close observation is how Apple will iterate upon these and how the competition chooses to keep pace.

Jitesh Ubrani, IDC senior research analyst for mobile device trackers said:

Although prices for individual products has slowly declined, consumer preferences have shifted to more sophisticated devices and towards well recognized brands. It’s due to this that the wearables market has seen healthy double-digit growth in average selling prices since 2016. Combined with the potential to sell added software and services, wearables are proving to be an increasingly lucrative market for brands and service providers.

“More sophisticated devices” and “well recognized brands” — when consumers think of those two terms as they relate to tech products, what is the first name that comes to mind?

Over the past two years, Apple’s stock price has risen by about 72%. Only Garmin, with a bump of about 50% has even stayed close. Fitbit’s stock is down about 57% and Fossil’s is down nearly 73% in the same two years. Investors, too, appear to be interested only in well-known companies that have a history of making sophisticated devices. Apple and Garmin fit the bill; Fitbit and Fossil, not so much.

​NEW IPAD

​Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM) has been fighting to keep itself a standalone public company recently. This means that it has fought off all threats to its solidarity, from both external and internal forces. In a shocking move, Qualcomm’s board of directors is throwing out one of its own for exploring the possibility of taking the company private.

The chipmaker announced on Friday that Paul Jacobs would not be renominated to the board of directors at the annual shareholder meeting on March 23. For those that might not know, Jacobs is a longtime Qualcomm executive, having previously served as CEO and executive chair of the board.

However, Qualcomm said that the decision was made after Jacobs informed the board that he was exploring the possibility of taking the $88 billion company private. This is not the first time that Jacobs has come out in favor of taking the company private. In the past he had even approached multiple investors, including the likes of Japan’s SoftBank, looking for funds for an acquisition.

Jacobs believes that this is in the best interest of the company, that Qualcomm will be more apt to pursue real opportunities as a private company. He said in a statement:

These opportunities are challenging as a standalone public company, and there are clear merits to exploring a path to take the company private in order to maximize the company’s long-term performance, deliver superior value to all stockholders, and bolster a critical contributor to American technology.

Currently, Qualcomm has a market cap of roughly $90 billion. And so far in 2018, its stock has underperformed the broad markets, with its shares down 5%, as well as up 4% in the past 52 weeks.

Shares of Qualcomm closed out the week at $60.62, with a consensus analyst price target of $71.03 and a 52-week trading range of $48.92 to $69.28.

​Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) is feeling the heat after it released an internal memo detailing an investigation into workplace behavior, as well as announcing a that a few of its high-level executives would be departing. Keep in mind that while this all seems very coincidental, it does not imply causation nor has anything been deemed conclusive yet.

According to the memo, Nike management has become aware of reports of behavior occurring within its organization that does not reflect its core values of “inclusivity, respect, and empowerment.” In a sense, this is highlighting what many perceive as sexual harassment. And this comes at a strange time.

The memo detailed Nike’s plan for investigating and evaluating these claims going forward:

We are going to be doing a comprehensive review of our HR systems and practices along with elevating our complaint process for matters of respect issues. We will increase and invest more heavily in our diversity and inclusion teams and networks and additionally will immediately put in place an enhanced process to encourage our employees to speak up and make their voices heard.

In the same memo, Nike announced a departure in its senior leadership, which again comes at a strange time. Trevor Edwards, Nike Brand president, will retire from Nike in August. He will now serve as an advisor to President, Chair and CEO Mark Parker until his retirement as Nike transitions its organization.

Also Jayme Martin, vice president and general manager of global categories, will resign as well, after a more than 20-year stint with Nike.

According to a spokesperson, there have been no direct allegations of misconduct against Edwards, although there was no comment about direct complaints about Martin.

While these executives are taking off, Parker noted that there would be stability with executive leadership at the firm:

I am committed to stay in my role as Chairman, President and CEO beyond 2020. Trevor has decided to retire. We are fortunate to have a strong management team in place who is well suited to drive our next stage of growth and to steward and evolve our culture in the future.

Shares of Nike closed Friday at $65.91, with a consensus analyst price target of $67.91 and a 52-week trading range of $50.35 to $70.2

​MARCH NEWSLETTER 5

REMOVES A DIRECTOR

APPLE GRABS LEAD IN WEARABLES 

WORKPLACE BEHAVIOR

Fake news has plagued social media for the past few years, and many think that it played a big role in the most recent U.S. presidential election. While fact-checking has become even more important than ever, Google is taking a big step forward in this fight.

Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) search giant is investing $300 million to support quality journalism and combat fake news. This plan is called the Google News Initiative, and it is looking to deepen Google’s commitment to the news industry as a whole.

Google is looking inward as well to elevate and strengthen the quality of journalism on its own site:

On our own platforms, we’re focused on combating misinformation during breaking news situations. Bad actors often target breaking news on Google platforms, increasing the likelihood that people are exposed to inaccurate content. So we’ve trained our systems to recognize these events and adjust our signals toward more authoritative content. There are comparable challenges on YouTube, and we’re taking a similar approach, highlighting relevant content from verified news sources in a “Top News” shelf.

At the same time, Google is working with news organizations to combat misinformation. The firm is launching Disinfo Lab, alongside the First Draft, to combat misinformation and disinformation during elections and breaking news moments.

The firm is also launching Subscribe with Google, a way for people to easily subscribe to various news outlets, helping publishers engage readers across Google and the web. Its goal with Subscribe with Google is to ease the subscription process to get more readers consuming publishers’ journalism, as quickly as possible.

​FAKE NEWS

​Later Tuesday in Chicago, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is expected to announce a new, less expensive 9.7-inch iPad aimed at the education market. The Cupertino-based giant is hoping to lure K-12 customers away from Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) laptops that are priced below $200.

Ahead of today’s launch, Taiwan-based research firm TrendForce released its overview of the global tablet for 2018. The firm expects tablet shipments to dip by 0.2% year over year in 2018, from 152 million units shipped in 2017 to 151.7 million units this year.

Apple’s share of the market is also forecast to drop from 28.8% last year (43.8 million units shipped) to 28% this year (42.5 million units), a decline of 3%. Apple will remain as the top-ranked tablet vendor, however. Second-ranked Samsung is forecast to ship 24 million units this year for a 15.8% share, down 2% from 2017 shipments of 24.5 million units (16.1% share).

Two tablet makers expected to grow shipments this year are third-ranked Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and fourth-ranked Huawei. Amazon is projected to ship 14.6 million units this up, a gain of 7.8% year over year, for a 9.6% share of the market. Huawei shipments are expected to rise 14.2% to 12.5 million units.

Tablets, especially smaller ones like the defunct iPad mini, have been replaced by larger screen smartphones. The large screen smartphones are also likely to begin replacing larger tablets as consumers find that a larger smartphone serves the same purpose as a tablet, but is almost equal to a laptop for many users.

According to a report at Reuters, Apple accounted for just 17% of the K-12 education market in the third quarter of last year comprised of 12.3% devices running iOS and 4.7% of MacOS devices. Google’s Chromebook had 60% of shipments to schools and 22% of sales went to Microsoft.

Apple is unlikely to unveil a device that costs closer to $200 than to $300. The cheapest 9.7-inch laptop the company currently sells costs $330. We’ll know more later this morning.