Tag Heuer unveils Connected smartwatch running Android

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

media captionThe Tag Heuer CEO is insistent his company "cannot lose the wrist" to other smartwatch manufacturers

Swiss watch-maker Tag Heuer has unveiled its first smartwatch - a $1,500 (£990) timepiece that runs the Android Wear operating system.

In an unusual pitch, the company says buyers will be able to exchange the titanium-cased device for a mechanical counterpart after two years if they pay an additional fee.

One expert said the company was "smart" to offer its customers a Plan B.

However, he added, its use of Google's OS could limit its appeal.

"It will only work with iOS handsets to a limited extent - to show messages and do basic things - but as soon as you want to add additional apps from the Android Wear store, you need to be on the Android platform," said Alexander Linz, from the Watch-Insider news site.

"That's a big disadvantage because a lot of people who buy luxury products use iPhones and not Android technology."

image copyrightTag Heuer
image captionThe Tag Connected watch is made of titanium and sold with a choice of seven rubber straps

Tag Heuer is the first of the high-end Swiss watchmakers to sell what most people would recognise as a fully functional smartwatch.

However, other Swiss brands - including Breitling and Mondaine - have shown off mechanical models that wirelessly communicate with smartphones.

Tag Heuer has indicated it intends to highlight its 155-year-old history to help sell its device.

However, it is unable to brand the device "Swiss made", because the majority of its components - including an Intel processor - were made elsewhere.

Exclusive apps

image copyrightTag Heuer
image captionThe Tag Connected watch shows information from its apps on three chronograph-like counters on its digital face

The Tag Heuer Connected watch was revealed at an event in New York, eight months after it was first announced.

The device is modelled on the company's Carrera family of timepieces and comes with three digital watch faces not legally available to other Android models.

When in time mode, the display always shows its digital hands and hour markers - unlike many other models that turn off the screen to save power - and the built-in lithium battery is said to last a day between charges.

Owners are offered a range of sports-themed exclusive apps, including golf, motor-racing and trail walking-focused titles, as well as software available to other Android Wear models.

But the company's marketing campaign is focused on buyers' ability to switch to a more traditional watch at a later point.

"The Tag Heuer Connected watch gives you the means not only to connect to the future, but also to connect to eternity," said chief executive Jean-Claude Biver.

The upgrade will cost a further $1,500 and involves trading in the Connected timepiece for a special edition analogue model.

"It's very clever as it offers customers a sort of exit strategy and also provides an opportunity to attract new clients to their mechanical watches," said Mr Linz.

Apple alert

Apple does not offer its Watch operating system to third-parties, although it has formed a partnership with French fashion brand Hermes.

image copyrightApple
image captionApple offers versions of its Watch with Hermes-designed straps

That left Tag Heuer little option but to opt for Android because of the costs of developing a new OS.

"It would be absurd, it would be arrogant to believe that we could develop our own," Mr Biver told the BBC earlier this year.

Analysis: Dave Lee, North America technology reporter

image copyrightTag Heuer

The corner of 57th Street and Madison Avenue is an area of Manhattan showered by luxury, style, flamboyance.

But not, even for a moment, geekery.

And that's the point here.

Tag Heuer's chief executive's charisma alone could sell ice to Eskimos. Here, he has what genuinely looks to be an utterly beautiful product that brings, in Mr Biver's words, the "Watch Valley and Silicon Valley" together.

It looks like a classic timepiece, but with Google's full Android Wear powering it. At first glance Tag's $1,500 Connected watch makes even the $10,000+ Apple Watch Edition look like a bit of expensive tat, frankly.

But - like many smartwatches, it suffers from looking a bit enormous.

For male arms only, certainly. A ladies watch is coming soon - but only once the technology allows it to be made smaller.

Apple has shipped about seven million smartwatches since June, according to a recent estimate, with its prices ranging up to £9,500.

By contrast, Tag Heuer is estimated to sell about 350,000 analogue watches a year.

That might suggest the LVMH-owned brand has spied an opportunity to boost sales, but one analyst said he thought the launch was more likely a defensive manoeuvre.

"Tag is one of the most sports-orientated Swiss Watch brands and it wants to protect its core business," said David Sadigh, chief executive of Digital Luxury Group, the firm behind The World Watch Report.

"The Apple Watch has proved particularly popular with consumers who like sports because of the related functions it offers.

"So, Tag is making a defensive move to defend its market."

Another industry-watcher also expressed doubts.

image copyrightTag Heuer
image captionTag Heuer has previously sold mobile phones that carried its brand

"Its biggest hurdle is acceptance from the tech community," said Ariel Adams, editor of Ablogtowatch.

"Tag Heuer, among other luxury companies, has entered the electronics industry a number of times over the years with lukewarm products that might have been pretty and well made but were not known to compete as state-of-the-art items.

"It will also have to prove to consumers that it isn't only able to launch a tech device but to also support it with software updates and other performance enhancements over time."

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