Microsoft's SPOT Watches Delayed

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LAS VEGAS -- Watches equipped with Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology won't be available until early next year, missing the holiday shopping season target.

Microsoft and watchmakers Fossil and Suunto Oy of Finland only recently started a large test, too late to make the December gift-giving season. For the watches to be widely available around the holidays, they would have to be shipping to retailers in September, says Roger Gulrajani, director of SPOT at Microsoft.

Still Testing

"First and foremost we want to make sure we have a great consumer experience," Gulrajani says. "We are putting watches on people's wrists and seeing what the overall experience is." Now the product won't be available until the first quarter of 2004, he adds.

The SPOT watches are equipped with a radio frequency receiver and work with MSN Direct, a Microsoft subscription service that transmits information over an FM radio network. Users will be able to select from a menu of information that includes news, stock quotes, weather, traffic, and restaurant guides, which will be transmitted to the watches.

Also, users will be able to receive messages via MSN Messenger and appointment reminders, according to Microsoft. The service will be largely text-based, with some icons for weather reports, for example.

MSN Direct pricing was announced in June and is set at $9.95 per month. As an introductory offer, the service also will be available for $59 yearly.

SPOT History

Microsoft first talked about SPOT at Comdex last year. Bill Gates, the company's chair and chief software architect, subsequently announced SPOT partnerships with Fossil, Suunto, and Citizen Watch in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, also in Las Vegas.

Microsoft will talk about SPOT at the 2004 CES in January, but Gulrajani would not say if CES will be the launch venue for the watches.

SPOT watches and the MSN Direct service initially will be available in the U.S. and Canada only. MSN Direct sends information to the watches over the Microsoft DirectBand network, an FM radio network built from spectrum that Microsoft leased on the networks of broadcasting companies in the top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas and the largest Canadian cities.

However, Microsoft is studying the possibility of expanding the service to Europe and Asia, Gulrajani said. "We are doing some research about what the business and regulatory challenges might be outside the U.S. and Canada," he said, declining to give further details.

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