Government policy, a receptive public and innovative segment combine to make Singapore Asia’s burgeoning tech hub.
Government policies are highly encouraging Singaporeans to start using smart wearables like health trackers and smartwatches to manage their overall health and physical activity, and they are also increasingly successful in attracting start-ups, which will develop the next generation of wearable technology to fuel this growth.
According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, around 29 billion connected devices will be in use by 2022. Of them, 18 billion will work with the Internet of Things (IoT), the network of everyday devices that covers everything from fridges and air conditioning to vehicles and healthcare.
The worldwide wearables industry is expected to have shipped nearly 125 million units in 2018, according to market intelligence provider IDC. This represents an increase of 8.2% over the previous year, whilst double-digit growth is forecasted to be seen this year and will continue until at least 2022. By some estimates the wearables market could be worth US$160b by 2026.
Singapore start-ups and tech firms are well-placed to capitalise on this growth. The number of start-ups in Singapore doubled between 2003 and 2016. Having ranked seventeenth in the 2012 Compass Global Startup Ecosystem Report, only 11 other countries are home to more fledgling tech businesses today.
During this time, the government had been working closely with the private sector to encourage the development of new businesses. This central backing has helped Singapore to become a regional powerhouse for tech start-ups.
Smartwatches have grown in popularity with Singaporeans because of their desire for the functionality of activity watches without losing the elegance of classic timepieces.
Not only is the government contributing to the growth in the adoption of functionality-packed smart wearables through initiatives like the National Step Challenge by the Health Promotion Board, which rewards participants who hit a target of 5,000-10,000 steps each day with redeemable points, but it is also creating a strong ecosystem in which start-ups can thrive.
Through the encouragement of government agencies such as the Economic Development Board and Enterprise Singapore, large companies have begun establishing incubators to nurture start-ups and initiating joint-ventures to get them on their way. Through all this support, 24,300 jobs were created last year, according to the Singapore Department of Statistics, of which 62% were given to Singaporeans.
This year, the main five trends in wearables last year will continue to be enhanced. Apart from an increased number of smartwatches in the market, healthcare companies will also begin to provide more practical wearables powered by IoT wearables to their doctors, nurses and patients. There will be even more data collection to support AI and GPS technology will help provide immediate response in any critical situations.
In particular, the smart apparel segment will see impressive incremental growth. With an increase in shipments of $833m between 2017 and 2021, Asia-Pacific is outperforming the European and African markets. Within this segment, smart clothing, or fabrics that enable digital components, will lead the charge.
In line with the growth of smart apparels, we recently had the privilege to work with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), in support of the One-North Run with the trial of the smart t-shirt that tracks live heart rate, live ECG, fatigue and recovery levels.
Singapore has a part of this development, especially with the government’s strategy to combine business-friendly policies with heavy investment in the technology sector. Its continuous commitment to keep R&D spending at 1% of GDP gained a further boost when plans were revealed in 2016 to invest $19b into scientific and technological research.
Thanks to inventors in Singapore, a headband that knows when you are tired may soon be a reality. They are working on diagnostic devices that track electrical activity produced by muscles and developing jackets that can heat and cool the wearer.
Beyond health wearables, there’s social adventure photography, with 360-degree cameras mounted on your wrist, and boundless innovations in home automation.
In 2019, consumers will expect more from their smart wearable devices. These include tracking one’s emotional and mental state and offering of tips to reduce stress and improve sleep quality. Through wearables, patients will have access to more convenient means to test their temperature, blood pressure and sugar levels, whilst even predicting the onset of dementia and detect strokes early.
Singapore has already proven it has all elements in place to be a regional hub for technology. As 2019 unfolds, we will see even more innovations from a nation that punches far above its weight.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Pawan Gandhi is the founder and CEO of KaHa Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based end-to-end IoT platform company for Smart Wearables, with offices in China, India and Switzerland.
Pawan has over 15 years of global experience in leadership position at Nokia and WorldSpace. Has been responsible for P&L at Nokia, managed consumer services and sales and a member of the team responsible for WorldSpace IPO in 2005.
Under Pawan’s leadership, KaHa has one of the most robust Global IoT platform, with over a million users and growing at a rapid rate. In addition to smart watches, fitness bands and smart accessories, KaHa has taken the lead in creating smart apparels with capability of monitoring ECG, fatigue level and other health parameters and will further drive the healthcare industry in Singapore through cutting edge devices, mobile applications and ecosystem creation.