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Business trends

Chinese watch wearers get smart -- and slim

Timepieces with fitness and other functions expected to hit 7 million by 2021

A representative of market researcher AskCI says smartwatches have displaced the conventional sort among young consumers in China.

DALIAN, China -- Smartwatch sales are booming in China, as more people use them to keep track of their workouts, check emails and take calls.

Zhou, a 32-year-old insurance company employee in the northeastern city of Dalian, bought herself a smartwatch for 1,500 yuan ($213) in October. She said she wants to use it while jogging as she tries to take off some of the weight she said she has put on due long hours at the office. "The smartwatch was a bit expensive, but I can afford to spend a little on my health," Zhou said.

Smartwatches typically sync with a smartphone, allowing the wearer to check emails and talk on the phone. But in an increasingly health-conscious China, smartwatches geared toward helping users get exercise and maintain their health are likely to lift demand for the gadgets still more, U.S. market researcher IDC said in a report published in December 2018.

Fitness-focused smartwatches let joggers monitor their pace, calorie consumption and heart rate, for example. Many also let wearers see how well they are sleeping by measuring heart rate and sleep time. "I wear my smartwatch while exercising and sleeping," Zhou said.

New products are popping up to meet the growing demand in China. Huawei Technologies, best known for its telecom equipment, on Oct. 11 unveiled the GT2 smartwatch. It uses power-sipping microchips developed in house.

While the typical smartwatch can run up for about two days on a single charge, the GT2 can operate for two weeks straight, the company said -- handy for people who exercise daily. The GT2 sells for 1,488 yuan, much cheaper than Apple smartwatches, which go for 3,000 to 5,000 yuan.

Smartphone maker Xiaomi also released its first smartwatch on Nov. 11. The wearer can choose from 10 exercise modes, including jogging, biking and swimming.

In hiking mode, for example, a compass appears automatically so that users can see which direction they are going. Xiaomi's smartwatches look very similar to those from Apple but are much cheaper at 1,299 yuan.

BBK Electronics, a Chinese manufacturer that specializes in smartwatches for children, unveiled a new product in July. Its Z6 is equipped with two cameras, allowing parents to keep tabs on their kids and let them play outside by themselves.

According to a report by Chinese research specialist AskCI Consulting, 2.05 million smartwatches were sold in the country in 2018, up 63% from a year earlier. That number is expected to rise nearly three and a half times by 2021, to reach 7 million.

Conventional watch sales, by contrast, are sluggish. There were 137 million watches made in China in 2018, down about 10% from a year earlier, according to the China Horologe Association.

An AskCI Consulting representative believes conventional watches have been displaced by smartwatches because younger consumers prefer them. Chinese have a soft spot for brand-name items, but if watchmakers want to hold on to customers they will need to develop products that come with health-monitoring functions.

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