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SINGAPORE is another step closer to a cashless society.
On Thursday, EZ-Link announced that commuters can finally pay for MRT and bus rides using a smart wearable, following a collaboration with Watchdata Technologies and Garmin. This is said to make Singapore the first country in South-east Asia to let individuals pay for public transport rides with a tap of a wrist wearable.
With Watchdata Technologies, a Beijing digital security firm, EZ-Link will launch the Batman v Superman Fitness Tracker X EZ-Link, which functions as a smart fitness band and an ez-link card. Users can pair it with the Watchdata Wearables mobile app to monitor steps, calories and sleep. It sells for S$42.80 exclusively on My EZ-Link Online Shop from Jan 24.
With Garmin, the Kansas-based navigational device maker, EZ-Link will launch the Garmin vívosmart HR with EZ-Link, a fitness tracker that has a heart-rate monitor, and allows users to receive notifications on WhatsApp messages and Facebook posts without having to constantly check their phones. It will sell at major retailers from end March for S$259.
Both devices are part of EZ-Link Wearables, a new product line featuring "smart, stylish" wearables offering ez-link payment functions and an array of lifestyle options. Aside from making fare payments on public transport, the wearables can be used to make retail purchases at over 30,000 ez-link acceptance points islandwide. Nicholas Lee, chief executive of EZ-Link, said: "Our vision for EZ-Link Wearables is to give our users new possibilities and freedom, by blending an essential part of their daily journeys with different aspects of their lives. We are even more excited to be at the core of a wearable revolution for Singapore and the limitless possibilities we can bring to consumers."
When asked if the devices compete with each other, Mr Lee said that they cater to different market segments at different price points.
Richard Ni, sales manager at Watchdata, said that the collaboration with EZ-Link was an "inspiring result" after a "long period of joint research and development". He added that it marked a new era for smart wearable tech, and that Watchdata would work with EZ-Link to launch more products in payment and data security in the near future.
Asked why it took Singapore this long to let commuters pay for train and bus rides using a wearable, when wearable solutions such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay have gained some traction, EZ-Link's Mr Lee said that rigorous tests had to be conducted with various stakeholders to address regulatory requirements, and ensure compatibility and a good user experience.
Clement Teo, principal analyst at research firm Ovum, said as much: "The initiative involves different owners such as those of public transit and retailers, so it's complex to get agreements among them and to make it work everywhere. It's still early days."
Forrester analyst Ng Zhi Ying noted that consumer demand for wearables was previously not high enough to justify payment solutions for public transit using wearables. She said: "Singaporean consumers didn't warm up to the idea of wearables right from the start when these wearables were first launched because they were not convinced that the benefits of owning a wearable - be it a fitness tracker or a smartwatch - outweighed the cost."
She added that while early editions of fitness trackers and smartwatches came with a hefty price tag that "consumers couldn't justify" for checking steps, calories or notifications, there is today a plethora of wearable makers that have entered the market with cheaper alternatives with either niche or increased functionalities for consumers.
Asked if this marks a new step towards a cashless society, both analysts said that it's a small but positive step, as Singapore remains cash-dominant. Ms Ng said: "To take a major step, digital payment providers need to offer consumers obvious advantages over the alternatives, and ensure that digital payment systems are widely adopted by merchants."
Last year, Taiwan became the first Asian market to offer contactless payment solutions on public transit using wearables. The I-Pass Corporation, which operates the I-Pass that is used for all public transport in Taiwan and serves as an electronic wallet, worked with Garmin to launch the Garmin vívosmart HR iPass.