Microsoft Shares Smart Watch Details
Called MSN Direct, the service will cost $9.95 monthly or $59 annually when it becomes available in the fourth quarter in the U.S. and Canada, Microsoft says. SPOT watch buyers will be able to select from a menu of information, including news, stock quotes, weather, traffic and restaurant guides.
Between six and eight watch styles priced between $150 and $300 will be available from the watch making partners before the Christmas holiday season, says Chris Schneider, program manager at Microsoft's SPOT technology group.
Users will also be able to receive messages through the MSN Messenger instant messaging service and get appointment reminders from Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft says. The service will be largely text-based, with some icons for weather reports.
"This is not for reading the newspaper, but for the micro moments in people's lives, providing perhaps a paragraph of information," Schneider says.
According to one analyst, MSN Direct pricing is very attractive and could help make the SPOT watches a hot holiday gift in December.
"There are very few consumer plans that cost under $10 a month," said Richard Doherty, research director at market researcher The Envisioneering Group. "We think there will be spot shortages of the SPOT products before the end of the year."
"Microsoft knows technology, but we don't know fashion very well," he said. After buying a watch at a retailer, the MSN Direct service has to be set up by going to a Web site, registering the watch, picking a price plan and selecting the content services, Schneider said.
The market for the product is "limitless," Schneider says. Microsoft expects initial users will be Internet-savvy consumers, he adds. The average American has three or more watches, he notes.
MSN Direct sends information to the watches over the new Microsoft DirectBand network, an FM radio network build from spectrum Microsoft is leasing from broadcasting companies in the top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas and the largest Canadian cities.
The SPOT watches run a scaled-down version of Microsoft's Common Language Runtime (CLR) environment. The devices are equipped with a low-cost, power-efficient chipset that consists of an application chip with an ARM7 processor, ROM and static RAM, and a 100MHz radio frequency receiver, Microsoft says.
Batteries in the watches will last between three and five days before needing a recharge. If the batteries run out, the watch's clock function will still work, according to Microsoft.
Analysts are enthusiastic about SPOT and say it may succeed where similar services have failed in the past. Seiko's MessageWatch, sold in the 90s, is a prime example.
"SPOT by no means is a dog. It is a huge initiative to take ordinary objects and give them a new life," said Doherty of The Envisioneering Group.
The main differences between the MessageWatch and SPOT watches are the network connection and advances in low-power radio receivers that enable more powerful receivers and longer battery life, says Doherty, himself once a MessageWatch user.
Alex Slawsby, an IDC analyst, says he sees potential for SPOT watches although he questions whether many people will rush to buy them.
"Whether or not it makes it beyond early adopters will be dependant on how well the watches are marketed, how diverse the available watches are in terms of meeting price and form factor demands," he says.