TAG Heuer, Intel and Google Raise the Stakes in Smartwatches

10 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

TAG Heuer Connected is a $1,500 luxury Android Wear smartwatch.

When Penta’s watch columnist Paul Boutros strapped on Apple’s (AAPL) smart watch when it came out, he found the experience underwhelming. If you weren’t busy drinking coffee or staring out the window yesterday you could have seen Tag Heuer launch their new Android Wear device, the Carrera Connected.

It wasn’t quite the frenzy of the Balmain x H&M event last week, but by noon on Monday, there were lines outside the TAG Heuer store on Fifth Avenue stretching at least partway down the block, as watch aficionados awaited their first glance at what has been thought of as the first real luxury competitor to the Apple Watch: the TAG Heuer Connected, a Swiss-engineered smartwatch with an Intel chip and a Google platform.At an event in New York City Monday, Swiss luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer launched its first smartwatch: A $1,500 Android Wear affair that, besides a few details, doesn’t differ all that much from the LG Watch Urbane or the Huawei Watch. The Apple Watch’s “slow app performance, the draining of my iPhone’s precious battery during the necessary tethering between the two devices, and having to charge the watch every night, made it a gadget whose novelty quickly wore off.” Boutros wrote his critique among all the Apple Watch marketing euphoria, and was promptly slammed — before a host of other articles, in competing publications of note, rushed out similar critiques. Though it comes with a couple of TAG Heuer-exclusive watch faces, the TAG Connected has an Intel processor and 4GB of storage inside and, once you start fiddling with it, acts just like any other Android Wear watch. In all it’s an interesting proposition: a $1,500 Tag on a rubber strap that will make you feel like you’re wearing a “real” Tag by simulating a fancy front end.

There’s one thing that makes it vastly different than all other watches, however, and it’s not in its specs or design: TAG Heuer will let you trade it in for a regular, mechanical watch after two years. In particular, I have argued the Swiss watch industry is acting willfully blind about the Next Gen’s disinterest in mechanical time pieces, and the industry could very well “accelerate off the cliff a decade from now, when my daughter’s generation reaches the traditional luxury-watch buying age of 35—and doesn’t take the bait. It is also ludicrously large at 46mm and one of the purest and most mercenary efforts by a watchmaker to pay lip service to the future of smartwatches we’ve seen yet.

While that may sound like a great deal (it’s not so great when you realize you’ll have to pay another $1,500 to get a new watch, but that’s another matter), it actually only highlights the fundamental rift between luxury watches and smartwatches: The latter are not built to last. My daughter and her friends are firmly wed to their iPhones and have never seen the value of wearing an anachronistic mechanical watch as well.” That’s why, earlier this year, while at the luxury watch fair SIHH, I praised Montblanc for coming up with it’s hybrid solution called the e-strap, a BlueTooth device that clips on to the strap of a mechanical watch, and brings email alerts and tracks your jogging distances.

By partnering with Intel and Google – companies that the watchmaker’s marketing arm clearly thought brought gravitas to the process – the watchmaker has ceded almost all control to software. My Teck Trader colleague, Tiernan Ray, is also an avid follower of smart phone technology and has his own unique take on this quintessential 21st century product. From the Tag-inspired yet slightly cartoonish faces to the Intel Inside logo on the back, the watch is a strange chimera of unassociated ideas come together at an event so cheesy that the CEO of Tag Hauer, the lovely Jean-Claude Biver, literally brought out some of his own cheese.

It’s something else: a high-end horological accessory (it costs $1,500) that is being held up as a symbol of cross-border diplomacy and a savior of a national industry that also happens to do a lot of stuff. It looks like a TAG Heuer mechanical watch but it’s watch face is actually a touch screen, much like any of the smartwatches available in the market today. Biver took to the stage, my buddy Tiernan reported, “saying the company was moving beyond 150 years of making ‘classic’ watches with a ‘wedding’ of Switzerland’s ‘Watch Valley’ and Silicon Valley.

Connected features a 1.5-inch fully circular transreflective LTPS LCD display; scratch-resistant sapphire crystal screen; its Touch on Display supports multiple finger recognition; and has a resolution of 360×360, 240ppi. With a diameter of 46.2 millimeters and a width of 12.8 millimeters, it is enormous — even for a woman who likes a man’s watch, and even though it is very light, thanks to a titanium body and black rubber strap. (They know this is an issue, and say they’re hard at work on a women’s version.) The giant face does, however, make it easy to read. The smartwatch also has a 410mAh battery with a minimum life of 25 hours with typical usage; 1.6GHz dual core processor; 1GB main memory and 4GB storage memory.

The watch runs on Android Wear, connects via Bluetooth to both Android phones and iPhones, and the interaction is largely swipable and intuitive (though there is a crown that works with certain apps). It has no heart rate monitor, a large omission in a world where even the cheapest devices can tell how hard you’re working, but it does have a 1.5″ 360×360 circular transflective LTPS LCD display that can go into lower power mode so you can read the time at all times. The major watch bloggers who are ostensibly supportive of the watch including Ben Clymer at Hodinkee who actually hosted the event acting as a sort of MC for the odd afternoon. Also good is that, for the first time in any smartwatch I have seen, the face does not go into sleep (i.e. blank) mode every time you stop waving your arms around.

These custom microapps include TAG Heuer watch faces, special timing apps, restaurant recommendations, a golf game tracker and will soon include watch faces featuring brand ambassadors such as Tom Brady, Cara Delevingne, and Leonardo DiCaprio. The mechanical, a three-handed Tag with the same styling and dimensions as the smartwatch, is equally large and barely worth $1,500 let alone twice that. And while longevity is not the only or perhaps even the most important aspect of a luxury watch, it does play a part, and (though Apple refuses to share Apple Watch sales numbers), I bet that it does affect sales.

There is no eternity, it means it will become obsolete, and who wants to buy a $10,000 to $20,000 watch that becomes obsolete after five or 10 years,” he told CNBC. He is a sprightly man who makes his own aforementioned cheese and is stewarding an interesting watch brand out of the doldrums of the 1990s and into the 21st century. But with its trade-in deal for the Connected, TAG Heuer hasn’t really solved the obsolete smartwatch problem; it merely created a way to make it slightly less painful. Like the Prada Phone before it, expect to see this marked down considerably in the coming year as consumers hit the watch shops and swap these for “real” luxury watches.

This is also probably the first three hand watch using the new TAG Heuer Carrera 01 case. 46mm in titanium. @tagheuer #tagheuer #tagheuerconnected #ablogtowatch It’s this thinking – in essence the refusal to accept that customers want wearables that sail between the twin rocks of price and quality without sinking – that will ensure that Switzerland always loses. Though arguably the trade-in (up?) option slightly undermines TAG’s stated belief in the smartwatch, it’s a sneaky, and — well, smart — way to attract a new consumer base: men (and women — although TAG’s consumer base is 70 percent male) who might want to switch between the digital and the analog world.

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