Author(s): Raghu Gopal
How things have changed in a few years. The smartwatch concept was regarded with aversion at Baselworld as the Swiss watch industry railed against the arrival of the Apple Watch and was dismissive about the threat it posed. At next week's Baselworld, the stage seems set for several smartwatch announcements from major watch brands.
The smartwatch business hasn't lived up to its hype and has advanced in spurts. It's a category that still has momentum but, equally, is still trying to find the killer use that will generate attention and sales beyond early adopters.
TAG Heuer's latest smartwatch, the Connected Modular 45, was introduced yesterday at a lavish event in Switzerland. The continued commitment from the company and the numbers it shared are causes for optimism.
Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of TAG Heuer, claimed that the company has sold 56,000 units of its first Connected smartwatch, launched early in 2016, and that the sales were enough to generate a profit. For 2017, Mr Biver said the company expects to sell 150,000 smartwatches, respectable volumes for a luxury item in a fledging market.
The Connected Modular 45 watch — with a diameter of 45 mm — runs Google's Android Wear 2.0 on Intel's Atom Z34 processor. This is a significant design win for Google and Intel. Google hopes the "halo" effect of the TAG Heuer watch will help spark interest in other smartwatches powered by Android Wear, particularly given the rather lacklustre reception this latest update to the wearables operating system has received to date. For Intel, it's a very important partnership; having been displaced by Qualcomm at Fossil, it needs to prove its credentials in wearables to justify its continued investment.
For watch buyers the main feature of the Connected Modular 45 is likely to be its modular capabilities. Users can easily customize the device by changing almost every element, even the watch module, which can be swapped for one of two more-traditional mechanical units, including one with a tourbillon, a high-precision mechanism usually reserved for premier luxury watches.
Most Swiss watchmakers appear indifferent to the potential for fine mechanics to cross over with software and silicon, but TAG Heuer seems eager to find a balance between the two worlds to underline the fine Swiss heritage, and premium price, of its products. If there's such a thing as a digital heirloom timepiece — we remain sceptical as to whether that's possible — TAG Heuer is looking for the formula.
For customers accustomed to the nomenclature and ubiquity of modern technology, TAG Heuer provides it in the Connected Modular 45. The smartwatch module features GPS for location data and NFC, meaning the device supports Android Pay. It has a high-definition AMOLED screen and a companion app, which would essentially make this an accessory device.
The smartwatch category needs all the excitement it can get, and TAG Heuer is doing its share. All platforms need an expansive number of users to secure interest from developers. This is another step in the right direction.
CCS Insight will be attending Baselworld next week and will provide a full report on the event. For last year's report see Event Report: Baselworld 2016.