Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer is creating a smartwatch in partnership with American technology companies Google and Intel. The watch is an attempt to compete with devices by consumer-electronics makers, particularly the much-hyped watch by Apple. While TAG is the first traditional watchmaker to pair with Google, the partnership could open the door to other collaborations with high-end brands owned by LVMH, including Hublot and Zenith. One of the questions raised by Apple's $10,000 gold smartwatch is whether users will consider it a luxury item and wear it for status as well as convenience.
In his announcement at the Baselworld watch expo today, LVMH watches chief Jean-Claude Biver said this was his "biggest announcement ever" in his 40 years of working in the industry. He predicted the device would be the "greatest connected watch." David Singleton, the head of Android Wear development for Google, added: "When I think about the watch, it's always been a marriage of beauty and utility. We're going to do that with our partnership." TAG Heuer is set to handle design and manufacture, while Intel will provide an SoC platform and Google will lend its Android Wear platform and help develop software. The watch is set to be launched by the end of the year, at which point price and functions will be announced.
The global market for smartwatches may rise to 28.1 million units this year, from 4.6 million in 2014, with Apple capturing 55 percent of the market despite its belated entry, according to researcher Strategy Analytics. Even for the typically conservative Swiss watch industry, these numbers prove too large to ignore.
The number of Swiss watch brands adding electronic features has blossomed since Apple joined the battle for customers' wrists. Swatch, Breitling, Montblanc, and Frederique Constant are among those that have entered the fray, with products ranging from a messaging device that clips to a watch strap to a gold-plated watch containing a fitness tracker. TAG Heuer’s smartwatch won’t be made in Switzerland, with the company relying on partners in Silicon Valley and the usual international electronics supply chain instead.
This isn’t TAG Heuer’s first foray into electronic devices. In 2008, the brand introduced a mobile phone called the Meridiist, and the 2013 Oracle Team USA Americas Cup team (sponsored by TAG Heuer) wore electronic wristwatches with sailing-specific functions co-developed by TAG Heuer and partners.
"The difference between the TAG Heuer watch and the Apple watch is very important," Biver said. "That one is called Apple and this one is called TAG Heuer."
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