Swiss watchmakers are taking on Apple in the battle of the smartwatch
When Apple launches a product, it usually takes about a month before everyone in the world decides they must have it or they will die. iPod? Check. iPhone? Check. iPad? Check? iMac? Check. MacBook? Check. Apple Watch? Ah…
Apple still won’t tell us how many of its watches it has sold. Safe to say it’s not as many as Tim Cook, the CEO, had hoped. That makes traditional Swiss watchmakers very happy. They have kept their quartz dry since the Apple Watch launched earlier this year. Now they are ready to hit back.
First out of the pristine Alpine laboratories is Tag Heuer with its Connected watch, which goes on sale on December 9. Is it any good? I’ve been using it for a week and it certainly addresses what many critics say are the shortcomings of the Apple Watch. Because it is a rectangular computer/mini iPhone on your wrist, some, including, unsurprisingly, Tag’s boss, Jean-Claude Biver, say Apple’s device “has no sex appeal”. The £1,100 Tag Heuer Connected watch looks like a watch. It’s round, in the Carrera family — for those who care about such things — the dial is old-school, and there are digital hands that turn, including a second hand. There are even shadows under the hands in bright light. The face is always illuminated. You don’t have to shake it to activate the display, as with Apple.
The Apple Watch can be tricky to set up and sync with your other Apple devices. I found the Connected easy to tether to a mobile phone running Google’s Android operating system, or an iPhone running Apple’s iOS. Gmail, SMS, calendar, maps, weather forecasts, Twitter and fitness apps started working immediately.
Many complain that the Apple Watch is fiddly because the screen is too small, there are too many icons, and navigation by hand and the crown on the side is awkward. The screen of the Connected watch is 4cm in diameter, making it easier to read. Engineers stripped down the number of functions, making it easier to navigate (but detractors say less useful). You can’t, for instance, use it to pay for things.
The battery in the Apple Watch lasts less than 24 hours. Thanks to some wizardry by the chip-maker Intel and the search and software giant Google — Tag’s partners in the Connected watch — its battery lasts more than one day. Most nights I still had at least 20% charge left.
Apple does not recommend getting its watch wet. I showered with the Connected and it was fine. Biver insists you can swim with it. That test will have to wait for warmer weather.
Critics say the Apple Watch is outdated when you buy it — as all consumer electronics goods are — and you have to replace it every two years when an updated, more hi-tech model comes out. Privately, Jony Ive and Marc Newson, who designed the Apple Watch, admit they have no good answer to this question.
Tag Heuer does. If you don’t want to keep your Connected watch after two years when a new model comes out, Tag will remove the computer and replace it with a traditional mechanical movement, making it a normal Carrera. The price? Another £1,100, so £2,200 in total, including the original smartwatch price — £500 more than it would have cost to buy an entry-level mechanical Carrera in the first place. Perhaps best of all, you don’t have to have your phone with you for the Connected watch to work — unlike the Apple Watch. You get basic diary alerts in all circumstances and, provided your phone is connected somewhere in the world and the watch is on wi-fi, you get all your alerts as normal.
The main disadvantage of the Connected watch is that it works best with an Android phone, rather than the iPhone, because the watch uses Google’s Android Wear software. But Google says this might soon change.
Alpine Valley v Silicon Valley — who’s the winner? The Apple Watch is much cheaper — from £300, compared with Tag’s £1,100. It does more “stuff” and is best for hardcore technophiles and Apple heads. For the rest of us, the Tag Heuer Connected watch is better.
Until, that is, the Apple Watch 2 comes out next year.
Apple Watch Despite criticism, it tends to top best smartwatch lists. From £299;apple.com/uk/shop
Huawei Watch Mario Testino snapped the superstar models Karlie Kloss and Sean O’Pry to promote this Chinese watch. From £290; Selfridges
LG Watch Urbane LG cancelled the updated version of the Urbane after “hardware issues”. The original is still impressive. From £259; store.google.com
Movado Bold Motion Like Tag, Movado is a watchmaker first, now moving into the device sector. From £455; movado.co.uk