The Tag Heuer Connect is made from brushed titanium and weighs a mere 52g

There’s little argument that 2015 marked the year smartwatches (or, rather, connected devices) truly arrived on the world stage. While some devices were quite niche, such as fitness trackers and advanced electronic watches with global positioning, Apple brought the term to the mainstream with a range of fashionable, cool items for your wrist. How many manufacturers can lay claim to generating queues of keen buyers around the world? While it didn’t reach the frenzy a new iPhone generates, there was considerable interest that extended beyond Apple fanatics.

In the build-up to that launch, Tag Heuer started working furiously behind the scenes to develop its Connected watch in partnership with tech giants Intel and Google. The smartwatch was launched in New York in November to great fanfare, generating queues of those who need to be on the edge of technology. While its operating system, Android Wear, is already in use in a number of smartwatches, the Tag Heuer Connected represents the rst watch from a Swiss brand to fully embrace this nascent segment. 

IWC Schaffhausen's IWC Connect (seen here attached to the strap) gives wearers control over their connected devices

Other watch brands have also dipped their toes into the connected device pool, namely Montblanc with its E-Strap, IWC Schaffhausen with its Connect device (which may have been formally unveiled by the time you read these lines), Breitling with its Exospace B55, Frédérique Constant and its sister brand, Alpine, and Swatch. Each has a very different approach to connectivity, which is natural given the emerging nature of the market. The number of developments over the past few months is quite spectacular, even without including the smaller projects seeking to bring this functionality to the wrist. 

This is quite surprising, given that the watch industry practically shunned the smartwatch concept less than two years ago when Apple first presented the Apple Watch. Many claimed it’s not “really” a watch and couldn’t be compared with anything the mechanical watch industry can produce. I can’t disagree. The technology, no matter how well thought out, can’t inspire the same emotional reaction as the nely nished and highly complicated mechanical timepieces that the more illustrious brands are capable of producing.

However, that’s beside the point. In a few short months, Apple has become one of the world’s largest producers of watches, surpassing numerous established brands. Tag Heuer has admitted to being surprised at the market response to its Connected watch, and at having to ramp up production to try to keep up. In short, connected devices are here to stay and they will have a tangible impact on some aspects of the watch market.

I’ve tried both the Apple Watch and the Tag Heuer Connect, and their functionality fascinating, if you ignore the absence of the emotional response I have to the miniature piece of mechanical art that generally adorns my wrist. I don’t wear either connected device constantly, but I do appreciate the tness tracking and notifications that come to my wrist, which actually lead me to refer to my smartphone much less. Neither is a perfect device—far from it—but it’s early days yet. Tag Heuer has said
it’s already hard at work on the next Connect, which will be unveiled later this year—breakneck speed for those familiar with the watch industry—and there is little doubt Apple is preparing the next evolution of its Watch. While the high-end brands may not be affected yet, there are a number of entry- level brands that should be quite concerned about their long-term potential given the developments likely to be announced in the near future.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the next wave of connected devices will supplant mechanical timepieces. I think there is a positive aspect to smartwatches, in that they open the door to having some kind of timepiece on the wrist, which is significant in a world where we can refer to the time in so many other places. The industry has thankfully turned its attention to the challenge posed by connected devices. It will be very interesting to see how the battlefront of history and artistry versus technology in a virtually permanently connected world develops over the next few years. 

The Montblanc E-Strap was designed specifically for the Timewalker watch

The Hermes version of the Apple Watch has a face reminiscent of the Hermes Cape Cod and Escape Models

Bulgari takes on the connectivity challenge with the Diagono Magnesium

The Breitling Exospace B55 presents the ultimate connected pilot watch

Text by Sean Li