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Can a luxury watchmaker and a smartwatch platform get along?

The new TAG Heuer Connected is powered by Android Wear. I understand TAG's thesis. Consumers want smartwatches. TAG Heuer makes great luxury watches. Perhaps there might be a market for a great luxury smartwatch? The Connected is a good case study on what happens when analog brands try to go digital.

The luxury smartwatch

TAG Heuer isn't the first brand to attempt a "luxury" smartwatch. HP licensed Meta watch OS, partnered with Michael Bastian, and sold the watch exclusively on Gilt. It went over like a lead balloon.

By contrast, TAG does understand that smartwatches need platforms, apps, and developers. Unfortunately, there aren't many choices in platforms. After all, Apple isn't licensing watchOS.

Google was looking to partner with a luxury watch brand and so, in the end, TAG Heuer went with Android Wear. That's smarter than trying to build a proprietary platform but Android Wear isn't great. It feels unfinished and lacks polish compared to Apple's watchOS. Even dressed up with a nice titanium case and digital versions of classic TAG Heuer watch faces, Android Wear doesn't feel at home on a luxury watch.

Android Wear watches can also be had for as little as $129. The Connected offers no more functionality than any other Android Wear watch, and no precious metals or high quality leather. TAG Heuer can't even call it "Swiss made", as most of the watch parts are made in the U.S. The only difference between the Connected and the cheapest Android Wear devices are pedigree, TAG's distinctive design, and, of course, those exclusive TAG Heuer watch faces.

All-in vs. trade-in

It also doesn't feel like TAG Heuer has much faith in their own product, and expects buyer's remorse. Thanks to a somewhat bizarre program, after two years a consumer can pay another $1,500 and trade in their Connected for a mechanical TAG Heuer Carrera watch.

It's nice to see TAG Heuer isn't going to leave consumers stranded, I just would have thought the trade in would be for a new smartwatch, not a mechanical watch. In terms of consumer cost, it's not a terrible proposition: A TAG Heuer Carrera costs around $3,000 retail. Of course you have to wait two years to get the mechanical watch. But it does raise the question of whether or not TAG Heuer even believes in the smartwatch.

Why Connected?

So why would Google and TAG Heuer create the Connected? I think it's a response to Apple Watch. Despite skepticism, Apple Watch showed the market that consumers will buy a watch from a non-traditional brand. Apple was also a non-traditional brand for phones in 2007, of course, and iPhone seemed to work out okay. Apple Watch is to traditional watch brands what iPhone was to traditional mobile phone brands like Nokia.

I give TAG Heuer credit for recognizing the sea change and the threat coming. I give them credit for understanding new technologies should create new business models and not protect old ones. Unfortunately, the Connected just doesn't make the transition from analog to digital very well. In the end, it's a watch that tries to live in too many worlds and ultimately lives in none.

Bottom line

It takes more than a brand or even a platform to succeed in the smartwatch space. It takes understanding the symbiosis of what makes a great watch but also what makes a great smartwatch. Just look at the relative successes of Apple Watch, Android Wear, and other vendors in the market to date.

If they're going to succeed in this new world, traditional watch brands may need to forsake their past to fully embrace the future.

I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.

19 Comments
  • The only issue I see with your take on this is a big part of this is analysis is based on Android Ware and if you like it or not. You think it's not as good or nice as Watch OS but there are others who like Android Ware better than Watch OS. An example would be Andy Ihnatko. Now if you're saying both aren't good enough yet then I'd agree they both have a few years of refinement needed but as the years pass with this watch it should get better every year as the OS is updated. Listening to many podcasts like ATP, The Talk Show, and a few others it seems like there is a consensus that Watch OS was made to do a lot of things and no one is really using any of it but the notifications, health tracking, and looking at the time. Basicly apps aren't needed, and neither are the heart beets or drawing messages to someone. Now that key things that Android Ware get right is notifications, google now cards, and an always on screen mode. They could refine the animations and grafx to give two modes. One fun an playful and one that is refined and elegant for high end watches so it fits the aesthetic. I'd have to say what you say here can be said for the high end apple watch that is over $1,000 up to something like 15,000.
  • Since the author is giving his opinion on Android Wear in this article, I think it would only be fair if he would also state which Android Wear device he is using (or has used) with which android phone. I also think it is a bit disingenuous to give an opinion of Android Wear not being "luxury" when he hasn't even tried the actual watch he's writing about.
  • I assumed he got one of these to use and wear for a few weeks. If not I don't see how anyone can do much more than guess and make assumptions. I know on Twit.tv Jason Howell got to ware it for 10 minutes and he was wowed by the way it felt on the wrist as well as how nice it looked.
  • https://twitter.com/Gartenberg/status/687709361670602752 Though whether anyone liked it or Android Wear or not is ultimate subjective while the Connected's performance in the market, which I think is what Michael is focusing on, is observable outside of personal opinion. That's ultimately what analysts do: Analyze the market and report on it based on their experience.
  • Maybe the article should have, you know, mentioned how the Connected has done since it's early November launch.
  • That's not a link on the app for me. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Horrible article. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • And yet I still prefer android wear to WatchOS because it feels more put together and functional to me. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Traditional luxury watch > smart watch Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • I think in the long run Google will need a few modes. Luxury watch buyers would want an elegant and refined and dignified (what ever that looks like) experience where the current android wear experience is more fun and playful.
  • Really dreadful article. One of the worst I've ever read on iMore and that's saying something. Why doesn't it make the transition? Who knows, because it's just said as a matter of fact. How did Connected do in the market? We're left to guess because no information is actually presented. " I think it's a response to Apple Watch. " Wow, how original. Why was this even posted?
  • I like the look of the watch, but mine would have to have a Moon phase dial on it. I assume I can easily get such a complication on my Apple Watch...
  • And yo could easily get an android wear watch face that includes it. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Wow, really?
    You honestly think that you can't change a wallpaper on a screen? Because that's basically what it is... an interactive wall paper and there are infinite possibilities.
  • ugh. fud like this is bad form.
  • This wasn't a bad article, the Connected released a little over a month ago and sales figures weren't released yet. I kind of wish they had partnered with Apple like Hermes. Would had loved to see a take on the Link bracelet on an Apple Watch, not to mention what they could had done with watch faces here, perhaps a Monaco theme? When Apple released iPhone, Blackberry's response was that nobody would want to type on glass. Jean Claude Biver from Tag Heuer stated Apple Watch looks too feminine like it was designed by a student. He obviously hasn't tried one on when he states that, but he obviously went for a different market vs taking Apple head on. I think Tag is looking to be proactive with this version and released something traditional looking. Curious what the numbers will ultimately look like when they do report the numbers. I do think watch makers have been hurting for a while when people stopped buying watches, instead using their cell phones for the time. Now Smart watches may make more of a dent into the traditional watch industry. They definitely need to do something different to stay in the game, and Tag releasing Connected could trigger survival if it sells.
  • I seem to recall that at the end of the TAG announcement that Biver cut the cheese.....does this watch stink?!
  • "That's smarter than trying to build a proprietary platform but Android Wear isn't great. It feels unfinished and lacks polish compared to Apple's watchOS. " I stopped here. Besides stinking of fanboyism it shows a complete lack of experience with Android Wear. Wear is a fantastic wearable OS. There is nothing wrong with it all. Throw in the fact that you can use an Android Wear with an iPhone, that is quite the feather in the cap for Google. I'm impressed with how much compatibility they were able to muster out of iOS also.
  • just another apple @ss kissing blog post.