Tag Heuer takes aim at Apple with £1100 Intel-powered Android Wear smartwatch

10 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Hands-on with Tag Heuer’s £1,100 Connected smartwatch.

TAG Heuer, the Swiss watchmaker that is part of the French luxury goods group LVMH, showed off its first Internet-connected wristwatch Monday designed with Google and Intel.

A leading Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer and two technology titans Intel and Google have combined forces to produce a computerized wristwatch ‘Tag Heuer Connected’ billed as the ‘world’s smartest luxury watch’.New York – LVMH’s Tag Heuer on Monday became the first Swiss watchmaker to offer a “smartwatch” to customers that combines Swiss design with US technology, seeking to tap a growing market for wearable devices amid flagging sales of traditional watches. The $1,500 Android-powered Tag Heuer Connected on sale in the US starting Monday is seen as a rival to the Apple Watch, which launched earlier this year starting at $349, with some versions at more than $10,000. Given that this is the first smartwatch to have been created by a “traditional” watchmaker, it perhaps isn’t too surprising that this is something of a departure from the wearable norm.

Like other smartwatches, the new wearable tech device allows users to receive notifications, text messages, and to identify callers on a connected handset. The difference with Tag is that it has a digital watch face designed by Tag and adopted the company’s Carrera Calibre mechanical design and uses premium materials, including titanium lugs and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal screen.

But Connected houses an Intel Atom processor beneath its touchscreen that lets wearers connect to the internet, stream music and run applications via Google’s Android Wear platform, from existing favourites such as Google Fit and Google Maps to customised lifestyle and sports apps. The Connected, made in conjunction with Intel, costs £1,100 ($1,500) and runs a slightly customised version of Google’s Android Wear smartwatch operating system just like the Huawei Watch, Motorola’s Moto 360 and LG’s Urbane. The case and buckle are designed and manufactured in Switzerland by the same team that makes the rest of TAG’s watches, though the Connected Watch is not technically “Made in Switzerland” since the electronic guts come from Intel. Other traditional watch manufacturers – Mont Blanc, Swatch and a few others – have already created connected watches, and clothes and accessories company Fossil also recently released the Q Founder, a $300 Android Wear watch.

The companies call the new device “an elegant connected watch that merges expertise of Swiss watchmakers with Silicon Valley engineers to set a new standard for high-tech performance, timeless aesthetics and supreme quality.” The bezel is marked in five-minute increments and has a black carbide coating that gives some contrast against the case’s brushed and sandblasted surfaces. Though luxury watches do tend to have a weightiness that signifies their value, clearly Tag have gone the more common smartwatch route and kept it light. Customers can swap their smartwatch for a mechanical one at the end of a two year warranty if they pay $1 500 more, a strategy Biver said allows the company to protect its traditions and cater to younger clientele who might be tempted by Apple. Paired with one of seven colors of vulcanized rubber strap and a matching titanium buckle, it looks and wears a lot like one of TAG’s mechanical watches.

Tag Heuer’s Connected won’t be competing on technical features with its relatively low-resolution screen and 25-hour battery life, but on brand and materials, which is familiar territory for a luxury watchmaker. George Jijiashvili, wearables analyst at CCS Insight said: “With the wearables market set to be worth $25 billion by 2019 and a decline in traditional watch sales, it is little surprise that watchmakers such as Alpina, Frederique Constant, Fossil, Guess and Tag Heuer have started adding smartwatches to their portfolios.” Digital watches have accounted for around one quarter of the yearly 1.2bn traditional watch sales for some time, according to data from Statistics Brain.

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Bank Vontobel analysts in October forecast low to mid-market watches would be affected by sales of smartwatches and other wearable devices, and 30 percent to 50 percent of quartz watches would include some smartwatch features in the long term. The project was first announced back in March at Baselworld, the watch industry’s largest trade show, with executives from the three companies all present. The watch faces also contain a more traditional, but digital, version of a stopwatch; so pressing the crown will stand an analogue second hand on the display. Gyroscopic sensors are there for basic fitness tracking, but like most competitors there is no GPS in the watch, so you will still need your smartphone nearby. Most consumers, however, have yet to be convinced that a smartwatch, which generally have to be charged at least once every three days, is worth the effort.

It’s an intriguing new take on the smartwatch market for a company that’s a new name to it all – a disruptor, yes, but one that is coming in above the existing premium tier. In the coming months, TAG will also introduce watch faces designed with brand ambassadors, who include the likes of Tom Brady, Cara Delevingne, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

For most users, these software features alone probably aren’t worth the extra cost, but it does show TAG understands that with smartwatches the content is just as important as the hardware. Now, one thing TAG can offer that none of its competitors can is a service it calls “connected to eternity.” (Again, I don’t know who’s coming up with the names here, but they’ve got some serious work to do.) After two years, a Connected Watch owner can bring the watch into a TAG Heuer retailer, trade it in with an additional $1,500, and receive a mechanical TAG Heuer watch in return.

Sure, it’s not a one-for-one trade, but it’s definitely a big step up over letting a $1,500 Connected Watch sit dormant in a drawer for the next decade after its software becomes obsolete, until you finally toss it in the garbage. The last time a relatively inexpensive alternative threatened mechanical watches, the industry made it through by splitting into fashionable commodity products like plastic Swatch watches and ultra-high-end luxury watches for connoisseurs. Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Biver was largely responsible for the push into complicated and luxury watches in the 1980s, a time when the Swiss industry was all but dead after the emergence of inexpensive quartz watches from Japan.

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