There’s something wonderfully bold about luxury smartwatches. Whether it’s the $17,000 Apple Watch Edition or Tag Heuer’s $1,500 Connected piece, these devices say hey, yes, this technology’s not finished. It’s not entirely clear why you’d buy one of these, or if anyone actually will. But wouldn’t you like to spend the equivalent of a used car to found out? You’ll love it, maybe, at least for the three months until it’s completely out of date.
The new Tag Heuer Connected 45 does fall somewhat into this category. It’ll set you back $1,600-ish (Tag hasn’t finalized the price yet), and it runs the same Android Wear software as every other Android Wear smartwatch. In terms of the stuff it can do, the only unique thing about the Connected 45 is the comma in its price. Not what you want. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see something important: a luxury brand trying to figure out how, exactly, to justify luxury prices in an ever-changing tech space.
The Connected 45 is modular, and not just in the put-new-bands-on sense, either. You can personalize the buckle, the bracelet, the bezel, everything. Even the watch itself: You can swap the Connected 45’s 1.39-inch AMOLED screen and computery bits for a standard mechanical watch, or one of Tag’s ultra-fancy chronographs. (And you thought $1,600 was expensive.) By decoupling the individual pieces, Tag makes the Connected 45 into a platform more than a single product—and makes upgrading the tech more palatable. “There’s every expectation that the central module could be upgraded in pieces,” says Jerry Batista, the head of Intel’s new devices group, which has been working closely with Tag Heuer on these devices. “That way, your investment in the strap and the other elements is still good. It puts the flexibility in the hands of the user.”
Tag’s smartwatches have always been more, well, watch-y than you’ll get from LG or Samsung. This one’s hefty and thick, but smaller than before, and a little more subdued in its design. It’s made entirely of titanium and other metals, and it uses gaskets to connect the parts rather than the glue you’d find on most gadgets. “Again,” Batista says by way of sweeping explanation, “this is a Swiss.” It’s still an Android Wear watch, too, which means it can handle mobile payments and Google Assistant and everything else you’ll find in the new Android Wear 2.0.
The Connected 45 has GPS built in as well, in case you’re brave enough to run with your very expensive watch, and can go 50 meters underwater—you know, for the wealthy freediving early-adopter crowd. It’s powered by Intel’s Atom processor, which has plenty of oomph for anything you’d want on a smartwatch, and is rated for 30 hours of battery life.
Intel and Tag are also working on some special software designed to help you plan your day. With the help of a companion app, it tries to offer tips and reminders based on where you are and what you’re doing. That sounds a lot like Google Now, but it’s at least encouraging to see watchmakers thinking about how to evolve the notion of time. The first job of a smartwatch is to tell you the time; the second should be telling you what to do about it.
Smartwatches are evolving fast, but they’re still in an experimental phase, as hardware and software makers try to figure out what users actually want. The modular idea is the right one: It lets people buy into the smartwatch world now, without having to throw it all out and start over every time someone new has an idea. As more high-end brands get into the game, trying to mesh new technology with old and fancy brands, you’ll see more like it. In Tag’s case, the last Connected watch was very good and ludicrously expensive—this one sounds even better, and a little more able to justify the cost. A little.