The Apple Watch is going to have plenty of competition.
With the Baselworld fair in full swing, smart devices are the talk of the industry — and became even more so on Thursday thanks to Tag Heuer and Gucci.
Tag Heuer linked with Google and Intel to unveil a partnership to launch one of the first Swiss smartwatches in the luxury market by year’s end. Meanwhile, Gucci teamed up with Will.i.am to disclose they are collaborating on a smartband.
Tag Heuer and its partners claim that, together, they will create a luxury product that seamlessly connects to its wearer’s daily life, with Tag providing the watchmaking credibility and Google and Intel the technological prowess.
“Our collaboration provides a rich host of synergies, forming a win-win partnership,” said Jean-Claude Biver, president of the watch division of LVMH Group and chief executive officer of Tag Heuer. “The potential for our three companies is enormous.”
“The quality of Swiss watches is renowned worldwide,” said Guy Sémon, general manager of Tag Heuer. “When this is allied with the creative technology and global power of two companies like Intel and Google, using the Android Wear platform and based on Intel technology, we can see the launch of a technological revolution in our industry.”
Earlier in the day, Will.i.am and Gucci president and ceo Marco Bizzarri revealed they are working together on a smartband, which would be disconnected from any smartphone.
The Black Eyed Peas frontman dubbed the collaboration “fashion-ology” — connoting a mix of style and technology — and said the device, an upgraded version of the Puls bracelet he launched through his technology company I.am+ last year — would allow users to take selfies and conduct video chats.
“We’re proud to have figured out an awesome way to have an operating system from the wrist up, but designed so you want to hold your wrist up and express yourself through the things that you’re wearing — that’s what we call fashion-ology,” he said. “I’ve been a Gucci customer and a Gucci fan for years. To match technology with real fashion is an incredibly powerful combination.”
Bizzarri said Will.i.am was chosen not for his celebrity, but for his technological vision. “It’s not the usual collaboration between a celebrity and a fashion brand. It happens that the person managing this technological company is a celebrity as well, but it’s not the reason why we did it,” he explained.
Functionalities will include the ability to make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages and e-mails, music, maps, calendar, fitness and a sophisticated personal assistant activated by voice command. Details about the timing of the launch or the price range were not yet available.
The launches were expected to be only two of a slew of new smartwatches unveiled at the fair. Baselworld managing director Sylvie Ritter estimated that more than 10 traditional Swiss watch brands are to present connected watches at the fair this year. However, Ben Arnold, senior analyst at The NPD Group, said, “news out of Basel suggests they’re [watchmakers] not as focused on the space. They’re not seeing this as a big shift in their business.”
Arnold said the Apple Watch has motivated some luxury watch manufacturers to consider smartwatches as an opportunity and take the category more seriously. “What the Apple Watch announcement has done is get a larger pool of consumers interested in watches,” he said. “Apple is growing the addressable market for watches.
“We’re still talking about smartwatches as separate from traditional watches,” Arnold said. “For the early adapters, smartwatches were geeky-looking. Now, people are saying, ‘If it’s something I’m going to wear on my wrist, it has to fit in with my personal style.’”
Even companies directly competing in Apple’s main price segment, such as Citizen and Seiko, said they are not interested in venturing into smartwatches.
Stéphane Linder, president and ceo of Gucci Timepieces, dismissed the notion that smartwatches would sound the death knell of traditional Swiss watchmaking, predicting instead that the two types of watches would coexist.
“I’m not a guru, but I think, of course, it will have an impact. However, I think that a luxury watch, you buy it because you want to adopt a lifestyle. A watch can be anything from 10 euros to 20,000, 30,000 euros, and you sell a lifestyle, an added value, an emotional value, a brand, so I think this type of product will always exist,” he said.
While Tag Heuer, Google and Intel declined to divulge specifics about their project, the collaboration is expected to produce watches with Android Wear features such as traffic alerts, weather and voice command, and apps such as Google Play Music and Google Fit, which tracks health and fitness, including steps, distance, calories burned and heart rate.
David Singleton, director of engineering of Android Wear, said he hopes the effort will bring “a unique blend of emotion and innovation to the luxury market. Using the Android Wear platform, we can imagine a better, beautiful, smarter watch.”
Android Wear watches connect to Android phones and come in a range of styles with gentler prices — about $199 to $299 — than those expected for the new collaboration. “The price will be in line with the Tag Heuer price segment,” an Intel spokeswoman said. Tag Heuer watches for women range in price from $1,300 to $22,000.
Intel has been pushing into the wearables category, teaming up with Opening Ceremony and Barneys New York to develop My Intelligent Communications Accessory, a wearable-tech bracelet wrapped in snakeskin, pearls and lapis. The company launched BioSport earbuds last year and signed a deal with Luxottica for the development of high-tech glasses.
Intel is playing the field with partners at both ends of the price spectrum. Its previously unveiled watch partnership with Fossil Group is “still very much moving forward,” the spokeswoman said.
She added that Intel’s big tent philosophy will pay off. “We don’t believe there will be one product, design, form factor or solution that is the killer app in wearables, given that wearable devices span a wide range of use cases and price points. As consumer views of wearable devices continue to change and more solutions come to market that push the envelope in design, functionality and value, we will continue to see wearable devices become more commonly accepted.”