Last week, Tag Heuer, Google, and Intel released the most expensive Android Wear watch on the market, the $1,500 Tag Heuer Connected. The watch itself is not particularly notable, it’s a stock Android Wear watch with a few watch faces from Tag that resemble the company’s flagship Carrera. The watch is functionally identical to every other Android-powered watch on the market costing a fifth of the price. What is relevant about this watch is the delicate game that Tag is playing with its brand, and the greater Swiss watch community as a whole.
This is the first smartwatch from a major Swiss player, and frankly, it feels like an admission of defeat.
The reason these watches have any value in the first place is that they’re amazing physical machines, they’re incredibly precise and made with great care by very skilled people, and they have a history. Tag Heuer exists in an industry built on selling heirlooms, the ephemeral nature of this technology goes against every sensibility of their established brand, so how do you play both games without losing either of them?
Tag Heuer’s answer: By offering a connected watch with a horological back door. After paying $1,500 for a standard Android watch with a titanium case that says “Tag Heuer” on the bezel, and living with that decision for some amount of time (two years max), you can pay another $1,500 to exchange the screen for an actual Swiss movement, which may actually be worth what you’re paying.
With this tiptoeing move, the prospective buyer can almost justify the higher cost to get a logo on his wrist, and Tag gets to claim a piece of the smartwatch pie without saddling its customers with a very expensive and a soon-to-be very obsolete device. It will be interesting to see who actually buys these watches: Is it the person who would have bought a gold Apple Watch, but carries an Android phone? Is it a Tag loyalist who has a burning desire to be notified immediately when Pinterest emails him with new boards to follow? How long is it going to take for these people to exchange it? How many of these watches will be in use two years from now?
For the past couple years, we’ve been speculating on how the traditional watch community would fare in the storm of wrist-screens coming out of Silicon Valley. There have been a couple interesting entries, a handful of watchmakers have adopted MMTs “horological smartwatch platform,” which mirrors Withings’ Activité tracker by displaying activity data with a subdial on a traditional looking analog watch. So is this Switzerland’s big solution? Dropping a screen in a watch case that looks like its other watches is not only dishonest, it’s lazy. This is not an evolution of technology, this is not innovation, and we deserve better.