Today, TAG Heuer debuts the follow-up smartwatch to their successful TAG Heuer Carrera Connected from 2015. It isn’t just a new product, but a sign of a long-term investment in the category of smartwatches. The 2017 TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 smartwatch is an upgrade across the board both as a digital connected wearable device and as a modern luxury product. Modern utility as well as future “eternity” are key components of this new high-end timepiece’s value proposition. TAG Heuer wants this “Swiss Made” smartwatch to be useful as a piece of modern technology today, while also desirable as a timeless item to wear tomorrow. Let’s see how they went about engineering that for what is among the neatest-looking smartwatches I’ve worn to date.

Last month, I spoke with TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver about the upcoming Connected Modular 45 watch. He explained some of his overall philosophy toward the next smartwatch from what is traditionally a mechanical watch maker, as well as what he and the company learned after putting the first Carrera Connected smartwatch on the market. For Jean-Claude Biver, it seemed that the two most important elements in the Connected Modular were both a celebration of its status as a “true” Swiss Made product, as well as the ability of the product to last beyond the normal ownership expectation period of most consumer electronics purchased today. He knows that smartwatches last only a few years in terms of their utility, but wants to make sure that consumers remember that “mechanical watches will work 1000 years from now as long as there is someone who knows how to operate a screw driver.” Dissect that statement as you like, but it is more than well-known that watch consumers feel comfortable buying mechanical watches at high prices precisely because they do not fear “further obsolescence.”

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A lot of people speculated about exactly what the “Modular” part of the upcoming product’s name would mean. Even though the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 has now debuted, there are still a lot of questions about the future of the product and what TAG Heuer will release for it. The promise of being able to swap out certain components for cosmetic or technical upgrades is a key part of the product’s appeal, and one can only guess what new modules TAG Heuer will release in the future. It is also important to explain that even though TAG Heuer now has a facility in Switzerland to assemble its smartwatches, it continues to have close ties to Intel. TAG Heuer even employed a former Intel worker to run its connected watch division, which is located in Palo Alto, California – the heart of Silicon Valley.

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This is very important because it shows TAG Heuer understands what is required to seriously develop not only a family of smartwatch products, but to also continually support it through software updates as well as maintain close connections with other technology products. TAG Heuer’s own team easily remarks that the biggest difference between a mechanical watch and a smartwatch from a company perspective is that work on the former ends when it leaves the factory, while work on the latter continues almost perpetually.

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The focus on this TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 launch day is on the soon-to-be-available product and its accessories, but TAG Heuer have more than hinted that consumers could very easily expect to purchase new smartwatch modules in the future as the technology quickly improves over time. Moreover, they make it clear that even though the current TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 product is based on the theme of the Carrera, there is no reason TAG Heuer’s other family of products might not serve as the base for future Connected watches. A look at the “45” part of the name (which refers to the case size) is a conspicuous sign that other sizes might soon be available such as possibly smaller smartwatches intended for smaller wrists and women.

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Explaining The Modular Experience Personalization Options

Modularity for the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 comes in a few forms but is for the most part about being able to extensively personalize the aesthetic look of the case and its components, as well as the main watch case itself. This means that consumers will be able to choose a base watch which appeals to them and then later optional accessories or parts which can be easily swapped and mixed for a range of distinctive looks. It is a fun, well-conceived system, and clearly well-engineered as well.

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No tools of any kind are necessary to fully mix and match the case and strap components. The TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 (once again) has a few main parts that can all be purchased separately with each. The parts include the main watch case module itself and two lug structures which attach on one end to the strap and on the other to the case. Then you have the strap/bracelet, as well as the buckles for the straps. The only modular element that cannot be swapped out is the bezel style, which is attached to the case. Users must begin by choosing one of 11 available Connected case styles or mechanical watch modules, and from there can further personalize the look of their watch.

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TAG Heuer claims that 56 case style combinations are available to begin with, but that only 11 of them will be available in retail stores. The other 45 will be available as a special order purchasable online or in retail stores. These latter options will, for the most part, be the colorful aluminum bezel options that mark the sportier, more youthful look of the watch. I personally really like the PVD-coated matte black titanium case with the black ceramic bracelet. The black and blue bezels are in ceramic, while there are also a few steel bezel options as well.

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The cosmetic options allow the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 to be more masculine or feminine, sporty or conservative, youthful or mature, or modest versus flashy. The case is 45mm wide (the smartwatch module is water resistant to 50 meters, making it acceptable for swimming) and comes in brushed or coated titanium, black ceramic, or 18k rose gold-plated, and with or without diamond decoration. The assortment of parts can technically lead to some less than attractive combinations, but for the most part it is very fun to swap out the case modules, lugs, and straps for a look that feels personal and visually attractive. I fully assume that most TAG Heuer Connected Modular owners will want to have at least a few strap choices.

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TAG Heuer further points to no fewer than 18 different strap and bracelet options available at debut. This includes a large assortment of colors and materials ranging from a comfortable rubber strap or a dressier calf leather strap, as well as a sporty titanium or black ceramic link bracelet. The strap buckles come in natural or black-coated titanium. While similar-looking to previous clasps, these have an extra point of articulation which makes them more comfortable, and likely allows the strap to last a bit longer.

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As stated, the modular elements of the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 are the inner case, lug structures, bezel, and strap. Mixing and matching these various elements allows for the world of options that TAG Heuer hopes will make the watches emotionally appealing for a large variety of people – which is (again) how TAG Heuer hopes to convince people why having a “beautiful” luxury smartwatch is worth the premium price. Given the emotional nature of anything wearable, after playing with the watches I think that TAG Heuer has absolutely improved on their first Connected watch. TAG Heuer knows that personalization both physically and functionally is important. In addition to the modularity of the watch case itself, the software will continue to be updated with new dials (TAG Heuer admits that they did not support the first version with enough dial options) as well as a suite of software which will allow the device to be more than just a frame for the same operating system that other smartwatches also run.

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When the original TAG Heuer Connected came out, it was loaded with a few attractive TAG Heuer-branded dials, but I never felt that TAG Heuer continued to supply enough really compelling ones for people to download post-launch. TAG Heuer agrees, though they are much more invested in offering software updates moving forward. An interesting new feature for the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45, in addition to a reported 30 included dials, is the availability of software known as TAG Heuer Studio. While I don’t think the software will allow for true graphic design of new dials, it does promise a healthy assortment of personalization options within the many available dials to change colors and other features to personalize the look of one’s TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 watch.

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You can use the TAG Heuer Connected App on your phone or the watch itself to operate the TAG Heuer Studio. The trick here will be in making this system easy for people to switch out faces, as well as to allow them to save dial configurations so that they don’t need to re-customize them each time they want to change the look of their watch face.

Modularity for the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 is thus an important strategic element of the timepiece’s appeal for a range of consumer types, price points, as well as the ability for the watches to have appeal to owners in the years (as opposed to months) to come.

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