In a somewhat unusual collaborative effort, Google's Android Wear operating system will power a new Intel microprocessor-based smartwatch from Swiss luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer.
The three companies announced plans to partner on the watch at a press conference at the Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show in Switzerland Thursday.
"The effort signifies a new era of collaboration between Swiss watchmakers and Silicon Valley," said Jean-Claude Biver, TAG Heuer CEO, said in a statement. "Swiss watchmaking and Silicon Valley is a marriage of technological innovation with watchmaking credibility," he said.
Rumors about Intel and TAG Heuer collaborating on a smartwatch have been floating around for the past several months. The two companies in fact were expected to announce a jointly developed smartwatch at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. The device, which will deliver all the functions of current-generation smartwatches, is apparently designed to look more like a traditional wrist watch.
News about Google's involvement in the effort is new and suggests that the Swiss smartwatch is a direct response to the newly launched Apple Watch. Apple's much-anticipated smartwatch, released earlier this month, comes in three models, starting with a $349 Sport model and going all the way up to a high-end $17,000 luxury Watch Edition.
Some see the Apple Watch as posing a threat to traditional watchmakers at both the low and the ultra-high end of the scale.
"It's safe to say that the Google, Intel and TAG Heuer partnership is aiming to both compete with and undermine Apple in the luxury watch segment," said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT. The collaboration represents an effort by the three companies to leverage each other's considerable strengths in their specific areas of expertise. The approach differs deeply from that of Apple, which is attempting to sell itself as a stand-alone luxury watch brand, King said.
"An interesting aspect of these efforts is how little they actually concern technology," King wrote in an email to eWEEK. "Digital watches that are integrated with smartphones aren't exactly big news, and the Apple Watch breaks little, if any, new ground." All that Apple has really done is drop "the same digital guts used in its lower-end watches into a gold-ceramic alloy case."
For Google, the collaboration with TAG Heuer takes it into territory that it has not played in before. The company's Android Wear operating system currently powers a range of smartwatches from companies like Motorola, Samsung and Sony. Most of the models retail for less than $300 and can sync with smartphones running Android 4.3 or higher.
With its Tag Heuer partnership, "Google is looking for a way to address the fact that smartwatches are pieces of jewelry as well as technology," said Ezra Gottheil, principal analyst with Technology Business Research.
"Appearance and status are important," Gottheil said in an email to eWEEK.
Unlike Apple, which has focused on both form and function, Google and its OEM partners have taken a more function-oriented approach to smartwatches. That could change with the latest partnership, he said. For Google, the TAG Heuer partnership will address both the appearance and status deficit with respect to the Apple Watch.
"Presumably, Intel was able to make the case that its technology would help deliver a watch that was smaller and thinner," he said.