Commentary

Smart move to place your bets on smartwatches

While the market may not seem to be rosy now, signs are pointing to such devices remaining relevant

Is the smartwatch still relevant?

Wait, you don't know what a smartwatch is?

For the uninitiated, a smartwatch is a wristwatch with "smart" functions that alert you when there is an incoming call, a new e-mail message or an upcoming appointment.

It usually connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Some even have built-in cellular capabilities that allow them to be untethered from a smartphone.

Being a tech geek and a watch lover, I feel the smartwatch is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I bought the first-generation Motorola Moto 360 smartwatch before it was launched here. I also bought the original Apple Watch in Tokyo before it reached our shores.

I like that I can read messages and incoming e-mails on my smartwatch whenever I stop my car at a traffic light. I like my smartwatch telling me to stand up when I have been sitting for too long. I also like it guiding me through a range of breathing exercises and showing me how many steps I have taken a day.

The launch of new smartwatches from fashion and luxury brands such as Montblanc (above), Louis Vuitton and Tag Heuer augurs well for the industry.
The launch of new smartwatches from fashion and luxury brands such as Montblanc (above), Louis Vuitton and Tag Heuer augurs well for the industry. PHOTO: MONTBLANC

I have even stopped buying new watches because of the smartwatch (OK, I still do - but don't tell my wife). It just feels funny and unempowered to have a "dumb" watch on my wrist.

But the smartwatch market is not looking rosy at the moment.

Apart from the Apple Watch, which seems to be doing well, there are a number of worrying signs for the smartwatch market at the moment.

After running into financial issues, smartwatch poster boy Pebble no longer exists. It was bought over by fitness tracker giant Fitbit last year, and no longer sells new Pebble smartwatches. And Fitbit itself has yet to launch its rumoured Blaze smartwatch (at press time).

Google's smartwatch operating system Android Wear 2.0 - announced last May - took nearly a year after its announcement to be on the market.

LG, Motorola and Huawei are not expected to launch new smartwatches any time soon. Huawei's current CEO Eric Xu even admitted during an analyst summit in April that he never saw the "need to wear smartwatches".

Such developments prompted many critics to question the relevance of this fledgling device. But I think the smartwatch is still relevant.

For one thing, the forecasts for smartwatches remain optimistic. Research firm Canalys predicted in a March report that the smartwatch market will grow 18 per cent this year, compared with last year, with an expected shipment of 28.5 million units. By 2021, more than 50 million smartwatches are expected to be shipped.

Rumoured cellular-enabled smartwatches from Apple, which reportedly will be launched later this year, are also expected to give the market a boost, according to a Canalys report this month.

Smartwatches might not be churning up a tsunami that some analysts have predicted, but they are making tiny waves in our digital lives.

A friend recently got herself an Apple Watch Series 2. She is now totally into it - and she's not even a watch person - because it motivates her to go for runs and be more fit.

With the Apple Watch Series 2 and Samsung Gear 3 smartwatches, you can also make mobile payments. And with the recent launch of the EZ-Charm Wearable that can be attached to a Gear 3 or Gear Fit2, you can even pay for public transport using your smartwatch.

I feel the main problem with many early smartwatches is that they are made by inexperienced start-ups or tech companies.

Thus, you mostly get a gadget that you wear on the wrist, instead of a wristwatch. And people want to wear a wristwatch that feels like one, or at least a pretty one that does not feel like a gadget.

But, in recent months, we saw the launch of new smartwatches from fashion and luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Montblanc and Tag Heuer.

With their vast experience in watchmaking, they will be the prime mover of the next generation of smartwatches that consumers will want or even lust for.

If smartwatches are not the future, I doubt that these watchmakers will be jumping on the bandwagon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Smart move to place your bets on smartwatches'. Print Edition | Subscribe