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Tag Heuer Connected: a potential turning point in smartwatches

Tag Heuer’s first “luxury” Android Wear smartwatch, unveiled in New York on Monday, could be the most important smartwatch launch of 2015.

In a year when Apple debuted its first smartwatch, that might sound surprising, but a tech company releasing a smartwatch is expected – for a luxury Swiss watchmaker to do so is a sign that wearable technology is finally growing up.

The launch of the Tag Heuer Connected shows smartwatches are no longer the sole domain of technology companies such as Apple, Google and Samsung. And that matters because a lot of people wear watches but very few wear smartwatches. If anyone can help change that habit, it’s traditional watchmakers.

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. That it runs Android Wear is important, because it means it’s plugging into an existing ecosystem.

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. But Tag Heuer’s is the first by a high-end traditional Swiss watch manufacturer that runs an operating system shared by others.

Familiar territory for traditional watchmakers

Google has customised Android Wear to fit with Tag Heuer’s brand. Photograph: Tag Heuer

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. Smartwatches are considered by many as the evolution of the digital watch. If just small percentage of those digital watches became smartwatches, it’s a potential market of millions of devices.

More than just geek bling

Tag Heuer’s chief executive Jean-Claude Biver describes the Connected as an “exclusive, luxury watch” that isn’t meant for mass market. This is in-keeping with the company’s other watches, which cost around £1,000 or more.

For the Connected to be a success, Tag Heuer has to promote its Android Wear smartwatch out of the realm of geek bling and into the jewellery space, a feat Apple has attempted with the Edition versions of its smartwatch.

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. Data from CCS Insight shows that nearly 20% of those who own a smartwatch or fitness band have simply become tired of them and stopped wearing them. Jijiashvili says manufacturers need to overcome this by making their devices indispensable.

The question is: what will make a smartwatch indispensable? For Tag Heuer, the answer may be to simply make it a desirable piece of jewellery, as with any other luxury watch, that’s bought because of its design, materials and what owning it says about you – rather than because of what it actually does. If that works, then it will be a significant turning point in the history of smartwatches.

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