The COVID-19 pandemic produced a few real winners among web-connected consumer devices in the US and Canada last year, according to a new study by Cujo AI.
The study found that North American sales of smart sports and fitness devices, gaming consoles, e-readers, smart watches, VR headsets, smart alarm systems and smart doorbells all surged during the pandemic-induced lockdowns of 2020 as millions of people worked and schooled from home. The report is based on an analysis of Internet-connected device usage patterns and trends gathered from data from more than 1 billion devices between January 2020 and April 2021.
"Clearly the pandemic changed almost everyone's life," said Zoltán Balázs, Head of the Vulnerability Research Lab at Cujo AI. "We'll never go back to the same [patterns] as before."
In particular, smart sports and fitness devices and e-readers took off in the early months of the pandemic. Sports and fitness devices then continued to rise in popularity throughout the year while e-readers tailed off after their early gains as consumers turned to other pursuits.
"Gym lockdowns and more time at home did not stop people from exercising, and we saw an increase in smart fitness and sports devices connected in March 2020 onward," the report says. "[With] an overall increase of 50% in popularity, fitness and sports devices show how a significant change in the daily habits and living conditions impact the online smart device ecosystem."
In contrast, some other connected consumer devices, such as mobile tablets, smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming video devices, did not show much, if any, COVID-related growth. But that might just be because American and Canadian consumers were already pretty much maxed out on those types of devices.
"Smart TVs, streaming video devices and set-top boxes had a stable portion of the market without much fluctuation during the peak of the pandemic, except an initial boost in streaming video device connectivity," the report explains. "It seems that most households already had smart TV setups and multimedia devices, signaling a clearly saturated market."
Gaming consoles score big
Notably, gaming consoles enjoyed two surges in sales, once in the spring when the pandemic first hit and then again in the fall during the traditionally strong holiday shopping season. In the latter period, Nintendo especially saw sales of its latest console, the Nintendo Switch, climb steadily, enabling it to overtake Microsoft's Xbox and challenge Sony's PlayStation for market share.
"Gaming consoles had a good Q2, 2020 with an overall boost of close to 19%," the report said. "Newly released consoles did not create a market shift yet, but the holiday season did bring more gaming devices online."
Mobile has mojo
In another key finding, the Cujo AI study revealed that personal computers no longer make up the majority of consumer devices on the Internet. Not too surprisingly, smartphones are now the most common connected devices, making up just over 38% of all connected devices in North America.
Drilling down on the data, Apple's family of iOS-powered phones, tablets and other gear account for more than two-thirds of mobile devices in North America. In contrast, none of the more than 7,000 different Android devices out there command more than 3% of the Android market.
From a security standpoint, Balázs noted that this dichotomy between the iOS and Android markets has its pros and cons for each. On the one hand, the fact that there are only about 50 different iOS-powered devices means that security patches are available for most of them, unlike the 7,000-plus Android devices. But, on the other hand, the fact that there are so many Android devices makes it less appealing for hackers to target any one of them, unlike the relatively low number of iOS devices.
"One thing is for sure," Balázs concludes in the report. "Even with advanced device intelligence, network service providers might struggle to investigate the security risks in their mobile device population, as things are quite complicated when it comes to patching Android devices and determining the EoL [end of life] of 7,000+ device models."
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading
A version of this story first appeared on Light Reading.