Smartwatches: A timely move to tell much more than time

Seen as a gimmick when they first appeared, smartwatches are now a thriving product segment.

Its rise is even starting to put the squeeze on traditional watchmakers. Swiss watch exports - a bellwether of the industry - had their worst quarterly decline since 2009 in the third quarter this year, according to a Reuters article which cited figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Tellingly, the worst-hit was the 200-500 franc (S$280-S$700) category, which the Apple Watch and other smartwatches compete in.

Last year, about five million smartwatches were sold worldwide. This year, the figure is expected to reach 30 million, said technology research firm Gartner. It has also pegged sales to rise to 50 million units for the next year.

Singapore consumers are also helping to push up sales figures. Tech retail giant Challenger Technologies said it has sold 81 per cent more smartwatches so far this year compared to last year.

A smartwatch is a wristwatch with smartphone-like functions that alert you when you have an incoming call, new e-mail messages or upcoming appointments. These watches are usually paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth.

The Apple Watch has legitimised the smartwatch industry, said Gartner's research director Angela McIntyre. "Apple is a strong lifestyle brand that people expect to set new trends. It will only take a small percentage of the millions of people who purchased an iPhone to purchase an Apple Watch this year for its sales to exceed the sales of all smartwatches last year."

Asus Singapore country manager Leo Tseng said the company opted to release its affordable ZenWatch 2 smartwatch here after Apple Watch's launch so as to ride on the publicity generated by the latter.

"The Apple Watch has brought another wave of demand for smartwatches," said Mr Tseng.

Asus is one of many technology companies that have entered the smartwatch segment. Others include Samsung, LG, Sony, Lenovo, Huawei and Alcatel. Chinese tech giant Lenovo, which bought Motorola last year, released its second generation Moto 360 this month in Singapore. Huawei launched its Huawei Watch here last month. NO PASSING FAD

Smartwatches are no passing fad. ABI Research's Dave McQueen said they are here to stay, citing their wide variety of price tiers and product diversity.

There are other factors that make smartwatches appealing. ABI Research vice-president Sam Rosen said: "Smartwatches are in a life cycle where consumers buy one so that people ask them about it and they seem hip and in-the-know."

Sales manager Roger Tan, 35, bought an Apple Watch Sport to try out its functions. Businessman Lim Jun Ming, 22, says his Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch allows him to stay connected without having to take his phone out of his pocket.

Traditional watchmakers and fashion brands are getting in on the act.Casio will release its smartwatch in March. Veteran watchmaker and luxury brand Tag Heuer has launched its Carrera Connected, which will be available in Singapore in the first quarter of next year. Fashion label Guess is already selling its Guess Connected smartwatch here.

"It's the beginning of an era where wrist accessories will be able to do much more than tell time," said Guess' vice-president of global marketing Annie Santo.

This article was first published on Dec 23, 2015.
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