Hong Kong and China to drive global demand for smartwatches

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 February, 2016, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 February, 2016, 3:16pm

Hong Kong and mainland China, two of the top markets for Swiss watches, could be poised to drive global demand for smartwatches. .

“There is a huge pool of customers in mainland China and Hong Kong who like wrist-based gadgets or jewellery, like smartwatches,” Neil Mawston, the executive director for global wireless practice at technology consultancy Strategy Analytics, told the South China Morning Post.

Without providing sales estimates, Mawston declared that “mainland China and Hong Kong combined will become the world’s largest smartwatch market by 2017”.

His prediction followed Strategy Analytics’ report on Friday that global smartwatch shipments grew about 315 per cent to reach 8.1 million units in the fourth quarter last year, up from 1.9 million a year ago.

In comparison, global Swiss watch shipments last quarter were estimated to have declined about 5 per cent to 7.9 million units from 8.3 million units in the fourth quarter previous year.

“The Swiss watch industry has been sticking its head in the sand and hoping smartwatches will go away,” Mawston said. “They are way behind Apple, Samsung and other leaders in the high-growth smartwatch category.”

Apple Watch cornered a 63 per cent share of the global smartwatch market last quarter, followed by Samsung Electronics’ Gear with a 16 per cent share.

The United States, countries in Western Europe and mainland China are the three big markets currently driving Apple Watch sales, according to Mawston.

He pointed out that the Apple Watch continues to gain momentum in mainland China, where the number of its distribution channels are increasing.

The Post reported last year that the number of Apple Watch users in mainland China crossed the 1 million mark in August, 17 weeks after the smart wearable device was introduced.

An Apple Watch survey from Shanghai-based research firm RedTech Advisors and analytics company TalkingData showed that the number of Apple Watch users on the mainland reached 1.07 million as of August 23.

Strategy Analytics said the other leading smartwatch suppliers in the fourth quarter last year were Pebble and Huawei Technologies.

“Chinese brands are fairly niche in smartwatches at the moment because Apple and Samsung had moved faster to market,” Mawston said.

Tag Heuer, one of the first Swiss brands to release a smartwatch, accounted for a 1 per cent share of the total shipped last quarter.

Strategy Analytics forecast smartwatch shipments this year to reach 33 million units, up from an estimated 20.8 million last year. It added that Swiss watch shipments worldwide last year totaled 29.6 million units.

In a report earlier this month, technology research firm Gartner predicted smartwatch shipments of 50.4 million units this year, up from last year’s estimated total of 30.3 million.

Data from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry showed that the total value of its exports last year reached 21.5 billion Swiss francs (US$21.7 billion), down from 22.3 billion Swiss francs in 2014.

Hong Kong remained the world’s largest market for Swiss watches with 3.2 billion Swiss francs worth of imports last year, down from 4.1 billion Swiss francs in 2014. Mainland China is the world’s third-largest buyer of Swiss watches, trailing the United States and Hong Kong. Demand for Swiss watches was down slightly in mainland China last year with exports worth 1.3 billion Swiss francs, compared with 1.4 billion in 2014.