It was only a couple of years ago that smartwatches rose in popularity. Today, numerous fashion brands – and even a number of Swiss watchmakers – have come up with their own connected timepiece.

Watches now tell more than time. They can track your fitness level, and monitor your sleep, plus provide notifications and alerts for texts and apps. Some are even able to make and answer calls hands-free.

But the big question remains. Are smartwatches still considered cool? Or was the meteoric rise of their popularity hinged to a trend that is slowly but surely petering out?

The Swiss watchmakers themselves don’t think so. According to them, it remains as a way to diversify the customer base – and draw in fresh interest, especially from the younger generation.

“It is still a growing market that reaches out to consumers who demand ‘smart’ features,” states a brand person working for a Swiss luxury watch brand here in Malaysia.

“The rapid penetration of smartphones has fuelled a demand for wearables. Those who navigate through the fast pace of today’s lifestyle tend to look for a second watch for everyday use,” she explains.

Some of the most prominent (and perhaps, traditional) Swiss watchmakers have all released watches that provide additional features, apart from the usual timekeeping function and its associated complications.

Two years ago, Frederique Constant launched the Horological. It blends traditional watchmaking and technological innovation, whereby diamond-cut hands on its second dial analogically display information from a connected device.

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Luxury Swiss watchmakers have also delved into the wearable market. Picture here is the Montblanc Summit. Photo: Montblanc

The more recent Montblanc Summit combines elegant watchmaking codes with the latest technologies. The design’s aim is very simple – it seeks to put Swiss style into a smartwatch.

It seems that embracing smartwatches is a practical thing to do for Swiss watchmakers. If doing so improves the functionality of their products, why resist the change?

As the then CEO of Breitling Jean-Paul Girardin puts it in a 2015 interview with Buro 24/7 Singapore: “Electronic and mechanical timepieces are different, but one is not better than the other. So if a technology is available, we will use it.”

Fitting a need

Fashion brands have also made their mark in the wearables market. Hermes, Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton, among others, have all come up with their own smartwatches.

But the designs are focused on the aesthetic more than anything else. Fashion brands are not willing to do away with the form factor when integrating function.

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The Tambour Horizon marries fashion and technology. Photo: Louis Vuitton

According to Michael Burke, chief executive of Louis Vuitton, the effort was to combat the fact that when it comes to wearable technology, “there’s a lot of ugliness out there”.

“For us, the aesthetic is non negotiable,” he says in The New York Times. On the price of Louis Vuitton’s Tambour Horizon, which starts from a whopping US$2,450 (RM10,400), he adds that it is just “akin to buying a pair of shoes”.

His views merely drive home the point of how smartwatches can fit all lifestyles. It does not matter if you are more of a tech enthusiast, a watch collector or a just fashion conscious person, they are still relevant.

Jason Kwong, the managing editor of World Of Watches, says that the smartwatch he owns is very much useful for day-to-day activities. He wears a first-generation Pebble device.

“It allows me to be aware of what’s happening when I’m preoccupied. The notifications of emails and work-related Whatsapp messages give me peace of mind, even when I can’t attend to them at the moment.”

To him, smartwatches are not dying off. He explains that the ever-increasing features may have fatigued early adopters, but that is where the problem is – users may not always know what they want or need.

“Among my friends, some have given up on smartwatches, but I think they’re just waiting for an evolution, to see what’s next. Although, there’s still a value proposition in finding one that suits your need,” he states.

A shift of focus

It was back in 2012 that an unknown startup called Pebble began a crowd-funding campaign for a smartwatch. They were successful, apparently raising more than 10 million dollars by selling 70,000 smartwatches in over a month.

The market players have changed though. Tech giants like Samsung, for example, are currently leading the push for smartwatches that go far above and beyond in terms of functionality and design.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly proud to show off their modern wearable tech as a lifestyle and fitness device,” explains Samsung Malaysia Electronics’ head of IT and mobile business, Liew Kian Meng.

“What comes as secondary is to fuse fashion with technology, to turn ‘geek’ to ‘chic’, and to enable users to achieve bigger things with such wearables,” Liew states about how the Samsung Gear S3 is not just your typical smartwatch.

Deputy country director of Huawei Consumer Business Group Malaysia, Matthew Ng, says the future will be focused on making independent connection more accessible in various services, such as Android Pay.

“The fitness and well-being functions are also a vast improvement on the first generation,” he notes, on the Huawei Watch 2. “Overall, wearables should be able to deliver more efficient and effective functions to enrich a user’s everyday life.”

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Huawei’s Watch 2 is a sleek device packed with various features. Photo: Huawei

Fitbit, the brand well known for its fitness trackers, sees the incorporation of other lifestyle elements like fashion as an added boost to the marketability of its different products.

“We witnessed great results when adding special edition colour options, elevating the fashion readiness of our Fitbits. Where fashion meets technology, both win,” states Fitbit’s Asia Pacific director of product marketing, Alexander Healy.

As reported by the International Data Corporation (IDC) in March, wearables are not dead. The market actually grew by 16.9% in the fourth quarter of last year, where global shipments reached 33.9 million units.

“As the technology disappears into the background, hybrid watches and other fashion accessories with fitness tracking are starting to gain traction,” points out IDC’s senior research analyst, Jitesh Ubrani.

New entrants to the market, in this instance, have included brands focusing on luxury watches. This could be a sign that smartwatches – and other fashion accessories with fitness tracking – are gaining traction.

It also means that smartwatches are here to stay for now. Whether in the form of a classic Swiss design or with the name of an established fashion house splashed on the dial, they will remain in vogue.


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