Creative Director explains why smartwatches are about to get a lot smarter

By Alex Wood 21 March 2017
image: James Chorley, Creative Director at AKQA

Smartwatches are about to get a lot better.

It’s fair to say smartwatches have failed to catch on. The figures speak for themselves, sales of the Apple Watch crashed 72% last year alone.

But there’s one notable exception to the rule.

Tag Heuer bucked the trend. The luxury brand expected to sell just 20,000 units of “Connected”, their first smartwatch, which sold for $1,500.

But in the end the company reported it beat all expectations and sold almost three times more. Unlike the ill-fated Apple Watch, Tag Heuer’s smartwatch sold out so fast the company had to stop sales online to meet demand in stores.

Meet the smartwatch worth wearing

Now the luxury brand has released its second generation smartwatch. The Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 boasts the latest technology, and for the first time, allows you to customise almost every aspect of this luxurious watch of the future.

So what’s the secret sauce behind Tag Heuer’s successful smartwatches? The Memo sat down with one of the world’s leading authorities on smartwatches, James Chorley, Creative Director at AKQA, the digital agency working with Tag Heuer on the Connected smartwatch, to find out more.

Alex Wood: Why have both Android and Apple smartwatches failed to catch on?

James Chorley: Smartwatches are largely trying to be everything to everyone: to crack the mass market instead of zeroing in on solving a real problem or adding real value for a specific target audience. This leaves customers unsure of why they should buy one, and for those who do, a quick drop-off in use after the novelty of a new gadget wears off.

Smartwatches that succeed are those created for a specific audience – watches specifically designed for runners or cyclists, smartwatches for children; and the TAG Heuer Connected, created specifically for the luxury millennial audience.

Another downfall of some smartwatches has been not re-creating the same aesthetic quality and emotional appeal that keeps people wearing their mechanical watches every day.

The TAG Heuer Connected is a luxury watch first – a watch that people want to wear and enjoy each minute of their day. This is reflected not only in its hardware, but also in the digital watch face designs and in how we surface micro app information through the dial’s interactive counters.

What lessons have been learned?

The new generation of smartwatches are more powerful and have longer-lasting batteries. Because they are becoming more and more demanding in their features and what we like them to do, this is crucial.

While designing and developing solutions for wearable devices, we must understand the impact they will have on battery and memory consumption – especially when you include complex animations, transitions or processing tasks. Constant communication between hardware and software teams is essential.

The new Tag Heuer Connected watch offers a range of stylish watch faces.

Many of us feel overwhelmed by notifications – how can a smartwatch help?

We live in a time in which people rely more and more on technology as a facilitator: to meet their expectations in a world where immediacy is the new norm.

As connected ecosystems grow and become more established in our lives, this reliance will only intensify as we become accustomed to speed and regularity. Smart connected devices should complement each other – understanding when and how we need to be notified – to seamlessly deliver what we need to know, according to our preferences.

As makers of connected products, we have a responsibility to design experiences that do not overwhelm their users. We should make a conscious effort to understand how people can get most value from a product, and then use that understanding throughout our design process.

Our research shows that there are times when people want to be liberated from their phones, that are ever-growing in size. As smartwatches become more self-sufficient, they will depend less on other devices and will become a natural extension of the ecosystems we build around us – helping to surface the right content, in the right way, at the right time.

What’s your favourite smartwatch feature?

As a watch enthusiast, I love the TAG Heuer Studio. It allows people to create their very own bespoke TAG Heuer watch face collection with a huge number of possibilities, and they can personalise even further with images from their own favourite moments.

From a smartwatch perspective, I see huge value in what they bring to outdoor activities. Built-in GPS helps me to track what I do without my phone, while I can install apps directly to maximise what I’m doing while I do it. The combination of improved hardware and better app integration means I can get more from a smartwatch now than ever before.

What makes a perfect smartwatch in 2017?

Technology should answer the needs of its user. Smartwatches should not just be an extension of a phone, a trap I think some early smartwatches fell into. They need to enhance what people do when they want to wear a watch in the first place.

Nowadays, the level of information we receive and absorb daily from various channels is increasing exponentially. The perfect smartwatch is the one that helps us to focus on what’s really important, by giving the right information at the right time based on where we are.

What does the future hold?

Smartwatches will become increasingly integrated with mechanical watches in an even more seamless way than modular watches, especially as screen technology becomes more advanced and chipsets smaller. This future trajectory is why we have always referred to the TAG Heuer Connected as a ‘connected watch’ not a ‘smartwatch’ – always a watch first and not just a temporary gadget.

Longer term, smartwatches will develop highly advanced health and wellness sensors, allowing them to connect with the user’s internal environments. They may even become the interface itself, with perhaps sub-dermal chips to keep the user in peak physical form and offering hyper-intelligent performance and lifestyle suggestions.

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