Wearables Get a Government’s Stamp of Approval

Singapore rolls out Fitbit Premium service

This week, Fitbit announced a partnership with the government of Singapore to provide up to 1 million residents with fitness trackers as the country aims to make its population healthier.

Fitbit claims this is the first major link-up between wearables, a digital health platform and a national public health programme. This is also a first for Fitbit Premium, the company’s new paid-for health service, which is set to get a wider roll-out later in 2019.

Singapore, with a population of about 5.6 million, is thought to be one of the healthiest countries  in the world, thanks in part to its robust healthcare system. However, rising rates of diabetes and heart disease have been a cause of concern, and the government is looking for ways to cut healthcare costs by encouraging its citizens to follow a healthier diet and exercise more regularly. The programme is part of a wider initiative in Singapore called Smart Nation.

Starting in September 2019, Singapore’s residents will be able to enrol in the country’s Live Healthy SG initiative, which will involve committing to a year of Fitbit’s new premium service, and in return, Fitbit will give registrants a free Inspire HR device. They’ll also need to agree to share their data with the country’s Health Promotion Board. Although the device is free, participants must commit to spending $10 a month for a year of Fitbit’s premium service, which includes guidance and one-on-one coaching. To address privacy concerns, there will be a “clear and seamless consent process” so that users are made aware of what data they’re sharing.

Up until now, deals involving giveaways of wearables have largely been the result of agreements between manufacturers and private companies such as insurers. For example, in the UK, customers of health insurance company Vitality have been able to sign up for a free (or heavily discounted) Apple Watch on the provision that they log a certain level of activity per week and earn Activity Points. This is the first time that we’ve seen a similar scheme launched by a government, and could be the start of a trend toward using wearables as a serious tool for improved healthcare.

There are several benefits to this scheme for both parties. One is that Fitbit’s services business will get a large boost. Identifying alternative sources of revenue like Live Healthy SG may be increasingly important to the company given the struggles it has faced in sales of its smartwatches and fitness trackers in recent quarters (see Instant Insight: Fitbit Results, 2Q19). Fitbit has earmarked health services as an important source of income; it’s seeking to grow this business meaning that deals like this could be of huge significance. The deal also helps the company to build brand strength and awareness, which may be especially valuable in markets where it’s less established.

For the Singaporean government, the programme will raise awareness of the importance of keeping active, and incentivize people to keep fit by offering a free device. It will also allow the country’s health services to collect data on the health and fitness activity of its citizens, which may be useful for healthcare budgeting and management.

It should be noted that Singapore is a hugely tech-savvy country and is regularly among the first to adopt and implement new technologies. As a result, Singapore is often a useful leading indicator of tech trends we may see elsewhere in the world. The Live Healthy SG scheme could be a precedent for other countries that wish to explore the link between population health and technology, and it could present a lucrative opportunity for several wearables manufacturers.