Why Intel put a smartphone chip in Tag Heuer's $1,600 smartwatch

Smartphone chips can extend the life of smartwatches, so they won't need to be replaced every few years

Do smartwatches need upgrades every few years like PCs? It's not clear yet, but Intel's powerful chip in the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45, a US $1,600 luxury smartwatch, will ensure the wearable isn't outdated anytime soon.

The smartwatch, which runs Android Wear 2.0, uses Intel's Atom Z34XX, a smartphone chip. The Atom processor seems like overkill but extends the wearable's shelf life and adds processing power for artificial intelligence, a feature Google is building in Android Wear.

The watch has a 1.39-inch AMOLED touch screen, and modularity is a big selling point of the wearable. The smartwatch's heads, straps, and other parts can be easily swapped, and buyers have the option to pick up one of 56 versions. The smartwatch can be turned into a mechanical watch by replacing the head.

Swiss watches -- like the one made by Tag Heuer -- have been treated like family heirlooms and passed down from generation to generation. Keeping the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 relevant for as long as possible was part of Intel's thinking.

Like in PCs, smartwatches could need upgrades as chips age and applications demand more resources. The Atom chip will last over multiple versions of Android Wear, said Jerry Bautista, vice president and general manager for the New Devices Group at Intel.

The processor also brings many valuable security features to the chip, which are important for mobile payments via NFC, Bautista said.

Later in the year, Intel plans to add AI features to the smartwatch via apps. For example, the smartwatch will be able to approximate when a person needs to buy milk by analyzing trends from multiple data sources. Those applications will need processing capabilities on the device, and the Atom chip can handle those needs.

Tag Heuer is stressing the "Swiss made" aspect of the smartwatch, and the wearable has interesting tech in it. It has Wi-Fi, GPS, and 4GB of flash storage, and it can run applications like Google Fit. It is water resistant for up to 50 meters, partly because all the parts have been engineered into a compact cylindrical structure. Water won't pass through the headphone jack, a unique feature. The NFC goes through the face of the watch.

The interfaces can also be customized.

A smartphone chip in the smartwatch does affect battery life. In tests, the smartwatch ran for about 30 hours before needing a recharge, according to Intel.

Intel last year said it would start making Atom smartphone chips. Older smartphone CPUs are now getting a new lease on life in devices like smartwatches. The company is optimizing chips and developing software to fit the profile of devices, Bautista said.

The wearables unit isn't a major division at Intel, unlike PCs, IoT, or servers, but the unit wants to develop software and analytics tools as the world becomes increasingly connected. Collecting and developing software for biometric data is unique to wearables, which is why Intel is interested in the area, Bautista said.

The Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 smartwatch will be available worldwide starting on Tuesday.

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Agam Shah

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