​With their expanding health and fitness features, smartwatches will have the highest share of the global wearables market by 2023, with a projected 43.5 per cent market share, according to research firm IDC. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Once marketed as fashion accessories, smartwatches are adding health and fitness features so they now double as fitness trackers

When the first Apple Watch was unveiled five years ago, Apple invited many fashion editors - including those of British Vogue and Fashionista - to its launch event in Cupertino.

Apple was not alone in marketing its smartwatch as a fashion statement.

In the week of the Apple Watch launch, Samsung paraded its Gear S smartwatch at the New York Fashion Week as part of fashion label Diesel's Black Gold line of accessories.

Earlier that year, fitness tech company Fitbit partnered designer label Tory Burch to create accessories exclusively for its Flex fitness tracker.

However, focusing on fashion no longer seems to be fashionable. Judging from recent smartwatch launches, there has been a clear shift in focus from fashion to health and fitness.

Last month, Samsung launched the fitness-oriented Galaxy Watch Active2 as its new smartwatch for this year, while not updating its flagship Galaxy Watch model.

Apple refreshed its Apple Watch with the Series 5 last week and continues to tout the smartwatch's electrocardiogram (ECG) feature as well as a new app for tracking menstrual cycles for its upcoming smartwatch operating system, watchOS 6.

Fitbit's latest smartwatch, Versa 2, touted as a "24/7 health and wellness companion" and which started being sold here this week, is another example of smartwatch-makers' health and fitness slant.

Mr Rishi Kaul, a wearables analyst at research firm Ovum, says: "Positioning a smartwatch as a fashion accessory was a good place to start when wearable component capabilities were a bit more limited.

"Consumers, however, aren't as motivated to buy multiple iterations of a fashion-focused wearable, especially as the first model they bought would do the trick."

Another reason that smartwatch-makers are focusing on health and fitness features is the opportunity to grab a slice of the fitness tracker segment.

Mr Neil Mawston, executive director of British research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics, said: "Health and fitness are killer apps for smartwatches. A band strapped to your wrist is ideally placed to monitor your body's vital signs."

It is easier to just wear a smartwatch, instead of wearing a watch and a fitness tracker

That band used to be the fitness tracker. But it is now being slowly replaced by the smartwatch.

Sales engineer Kenneth Tan, 49, said: "It is easier to just wear a smartwatch, instead of wearing a watch and a fitness tracker."

He currently uses an Apple Watch Series 3 smartwatch, having used the Microsoft Band 2 fitness tracker previously.

With their growing health and fitness features, smartwatches will continue to have the highest share of the global wearables market by 2023, with a projected 43.5 per cent market share, up from 41.2 per cent this year, according to research firm IDC.

By comparison, the market share of fitness trackers will drop to 18.2 per cent in 2023, from the forecasted 24.3 per cent this year.

Ms Loo Pei Fen, chief marketing officer of tech retail giant Challenger, says: "For every two fitness trackers that Challenger has sold so far this year, we have sold three smartwatches."

Smartwatch sales at Challenger have increased by 40 per cent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period last year. And Ms Loo is anticipating a healthy increase in smartwatch sales next year as well.

Courts Singapore has also seen robust sales, with year-on-year double-digit percentage growth for the wearables category.

Mr Matthew Hoang, Courts Asia's group chief operating officer, says: "The growth is driven largely by the adoption of smartwatches more so than fitness trackers."

This is especially so when smartwatches are becoming more affordable.

"As they are priced at just a small premium over trackers and as Singaporeans adopt healthier and more active lifestyles, we are seeing more of our customers choose them," adds Mr Hoang.

However, it is important to note that the smartwatch's fitness and health features cannot replace the advice of a doctor.

Associate Professor Yeo Khung Keong, a senior consultant at the department of cardiology, National Heart Centre Singapore, says: "While health features in smartwatches provide users the ease to track their own health, the information provided is mainly for users' personal reference to better understand their own health.

"It is advisable for users to seek medical advice when they detect any abnormal readings (using the smartwatch) or feel unwell."

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