At the Baselworld Watch tradeshow in Switzerland on Thursday, Tag Heuer finally revealed its plan to compete with the Apple Watch. The luxury watch company has partnered with Google and Intel to create the fanciest Android Wear smartwatch yet.
But while Android Wear may be the most viable operating system for going toe-to-toe with Apple’s wearable, it’s going to need a style overhaul to get up to Tag Heuer’s level.
Staying “Swiss Made”
The newly announced partnership has been in the works for a while; Tag Heuer CEO Claude Biver broadly hinted at it back in January. At the time, he noted that Tag Heuer would handle at least fifty percent of the watch’s movements so as to retain the “Swiss Made” label that sets the nation’s timepieces apart.
“The hardware and software will come from Silicon Valley,” he said at the time. “But the watch case, the dial, the design, the idea, the crown, that part of the watch will, of course, be Swiss.”
Biver’s insistence that the device be branded as “Swiss made” hangs on Switzerland’s long reputation for high quality watches. That insistence, however, is atypical of the hardware partners Google has worked with on Android Wear thus far.
While LG and Huawei have some stylish Android Wear devices planned for release this year, most of the watches running Google’s wearable platform have fallen short in terms of design in one way or another. Most Android Wear watches look more like shrunken smartphones strapped to people’s wrists. And Google’s UI and design choices with Android Wear haven’t helped break that illusion.
To be blunt, Android Wear needs some gussying up. It works well enough, all things considered. But in many ways, its “Material Design” aesthetic seems like the wrong fit for TAG Heuer. When Google unveiled it at its I/O conference in June 2014, Material Design presented an aesthetic that hinted at the printed page, with animations and shadows built in to give the interface a familiar and interesting feel.
Material Design looks great on smartphones, where larger displays can show off all it has to offer. But its extension to Android Wear hasn’t been all that impressive—at least, that’s how I feel after using my Asus ZenWatch over the last few months. Everything from the standard Android Wear font to the designs of each notification and app card feels, well, boring—and not at all premium.
Say what you will about the Apple Watch and the hubris involved in offering a $10,000 device. At least Apple has gone to the trouble of making the watch’s software look like it belongs on a premium device. That’s been Apple’s game for a while: making stylish software that feels at home on stylish hardware.
That’s actually one of the more interesting counterpoints I saw in comments to my piece on how the new Chromebook Pixel outclasses the new MacBook. The MacBook runs Mac OS, while the more powerful Chromebook Pixel is stuck on Chrome OS—and that difference is all it takes for Apple fans to maintain the MacBook’s superiority.
I don’t necessarily agree, but it’s hard to ignore the overall point there. Apple’s operating system has so many devoted fans because it looks and feels better than the competition. While Android fans have long pointed out that iOS 8 only recently incorporated features and functions that have long been a part of Android, that fact hasn’t kept Apple from selling huge quantities of iPhones. Apple makes slick software that makes people happy to pay a high price to use it.
If Google wants this Tag Heuer partnership to bear fruit, it ought to give Android Wear a new coat of paint. Hopefully Biver and his team of creatives will work with Google on developing a wearable OS worthy of the “Swiss Made” label. If not, I have a feeling that the partnership’s forthcoming smartwatch will come up short.
Lead image courtesy of Intel; Tag Heuer watches image courtesy of Tag Heuer; Android Wear image courtesy of Google