TAG Heuer's Connected comes to the Middle East
This time last year, we headed over to New York for the launch of Tag Heuer’s Connected smartwatch. And now, finally, it is available in this region, so here's a recap of what we learned about the Connected from that Big Apple press conference.
The hashtag for TAG Heuer’s brand-new Connected watch is #ConnectedToEternity. This might at first seem ironic given that most consumer tech devices are obsolete within months, or even weeks, of hitting the shelves. But that’s the thing about a 150-year-old watchmaker entering the same space as leviathans such as Apple and Samsung – it can’t compete head on and must instead offer something different. In front of a packed room of international press at the LVMH Tower on East 57th St, New York, Jean-Claude Biver, the legendary CEO of TAG Heuer, unveiled what those differences would be. We were there to witness the first attempt from one of the Swiss watch industry’s leading players, to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and the Swiss watchmaking industry. This was a big deal for all concerned.
Here are the basic facts about the TAG Heuer Connected that we learned. In the US it will cost $1,500 and is engineered with Intel Inside, powered by Google’s Android Wear and will be available in the Middle East from March. But what really makes it distinct is the added element of Swiss engineering and design. The digital innards are housed in a beautiful watch case, and once the two-year warranty expires, the owner can pay a further $1,500 to have the microchips replaced with a mechanical movement. This means the watch will live on forever – or at least a damned sight longer than an Apple Watch. It’s a novel approach and one that will be subject to much debate, but let’s be clear about two things: a company as large and influential as TAG Heuer can’t ignore the possibility that younger "We are giving birth to eternity in a box. And we are doing it because we cannot accept that anybody will one day tell us that they have to throw away their watch because it is not working anymore, generations may demand this type of connectivity moving forwards. And neither can it be expected to compete in technological terms alone and so has to find approaches that play to its strengths."
Jean-Claude Biver told us that TAG’s mission, in keeping with the “eternity” idea, was to build a smartwatch that doesn’t look like a smartwatch. So this is a timepiece that looks to all intents and purposes like a Carrera, right down to the watch faces that you can choose between. The case is 46mm in diameter, made from light but durable grade 2 titanium. Completed by a textured black rubber strap (six other colours are available) it has all the elegance, characteristics and level of finish expected from a fine wristwatch. Biver said how proud he was that he’d been wearing the watch for two weeks prior to launch and no one had noticed anything different. That’s because the digital hands and indexes remain visible at all times, even when the watch is in ambient energy-saving mode. The most pertinent information from its apps are discretely displayed inside the three counters on the chronograph dial at 12, 6 and 9 o’clock, completely integrated into the watch’s aesthetic environment. But of course this is a full-on smartwatch, so touch the counter in question and it will open the application in full screen mode. Apps customised for TAG Heuer include Insiders (lifestyle), GolfShot Pro (golf ), RaceChrono Pro (motor racing) and Viewrangers (trailing). It can stream audio, is equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, has 4 GB of memory, all-day battery life, Google voice control and is water resistant. The watch can also be easily synced with Android 4.3+ or iOS 8.2+ and as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection it will remain connected to the cloud even without the phone nearby.
Biver was his usual ebullient self at the launch, which was entertaining and at times surreal – especially when he produced Swiss bells and a wheel of cheese from his farm, which he proceeded to slice up for the guests mid-conference. He was also not short of hubris, albeit it good-humoured in the way he confidently delivered his messages. “This fact will never be forgotten,” he declared. “On the 9th of November 2015 the Swiss watch industry connected itself to the future. That is the importance of the event of today!”
And you could see why the involvement of a quintessential watch guy made sense. While Google’s David Singleton spoke of creating “something that is bigger than the sum of its parts,” and Intel’s Brian Krzanich envisioned a future where “a world of data that is being shared by people and places and things” Biver spoke passionate, evocative and expansive terms. His mission was “to give this watch 155 years of beauty, style, elegance, prestige and exclusivity.” You can see why the partners need each other to make this work. Biver was equally evocative when asked to explain the “eternity” angle. “Big Ben is 150 years old but its watch is still working. This is what we are doing, we are giving birth to eternity in a box. And we are doing it because we cannot accept that anybody will one day tell us that they have to throw away their watch because it is not working anymore.”
When asked how many watches he thought they would sell, Biver again stressed that the goal was not to compete with the tech players. He wouldn’t speculate on numbers, but he joked that “I go to church every morning and light a candle for Apple. Because the more Apple sells, the more we will sell. They opened the road for us.”His thinking makes perfect sense. TAG Heuer is a hugely powerful force in the Swiss watch industry and one that prides itself on being an innovator. Its CEO, Biver, performed near miracles at Hublot, Blancpain and Omega and has been credited as leading the fightback against quartz movements. If smartwatches become as ubiquitous as smartphones, then he will need to perform similar feats in the coming years. If they don’t, well then at least TAG tried and can concentrate on what it already does well. But as a first stab at offering something genuinely new and different, this is a confident, bold way to begin.
The watch is available for Dhs33,900, at all TAG Heuer Boutiques across Dubai