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. The watch has a handsome titanium case and nice crystal and contains an Android Wear device created specifically for Tag by Intel and Google. 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. 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.
The entire exercise is a risky experiment Tag. 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. 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.
Will this watch put Android into the luxury box? I doubt it. Like the Apple Watch Edition no one in their right mind will pay a premium for a wearable at this stage, especially considering the potential for obsolescence. While an expensive mechanical can be considered ostentatious bling, mechanical watches are built by artisans with an eye on tradition. If anything, both the Edition and this watch are the real ostentatious bling.
The watch has most of the accouterments associated with he modern smartwatch including motion tracking and buzzing notifications. 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. But generally their tone is one of general acceptance rather than rapt adoration. In fact, Tag is so skittish on the whole thing that they will let you swap out your smartwatch for a mechanical watch for a mere $1,500 – as long as you do it before a two year window closes. 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. This suggests an effort to protect Tag customers from the vagaries of the CE world. However, a savvy experimenter could also just grab a Huawei watch for $349 or an Apple Watch for a little more. The market here is a mystery.
To be clear I’m a big fan of Biver as a figure in the watch world. 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. Sadly, this specific smartwatch not the watch that will herald the luxury wearables renaissance. 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. Google and Intel played Tag Heuer for fools by releasing something that neither company would release on their own for fear of low sales.
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. What Tag Heuer is really doing is asking a certain brand of consumer to spend $3,000 on a mechanical watch but, in the interim between purchase and inevitable frustration, mess around with an Android Wear device until the processor is seen as too pokey. It’s like a car dealer handing over the keys to a VW Beetle to drive before they deliver your Porsche. Both are fun but you came onto the lot to buy the sports car.