Microsoft SPOT Watches Hit Stores

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Wristwatches and wireless services based on Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology won't be on sale in time for the holidays, but they are coming soon. The devices will be available in January, the software giant confirms.

Microsoft will use next month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to announce the availability of the devices, which were announced there last year. The software maker also plans to launch updates to its MSN Internet Software, and is expected to outline planned improvements to the Media Center Edition of Windows XP at the show.

Smart Personal Objects Technology, or SPOT, uses a portion of the FM broadcast radio networks to deliver snippets of information about weather, news, stock prices, and sports scores to wristwatches equipped with the technology.

Trouble SPOT

The technology was first announced at CES in January 2003, and SPOT watches were originally supposed to go on sale from Fossil and other watchmakers in time for the holiday shopping season. Last-minute tweaks to a radio chip in the watches delayed their introduction, according to a source familiar with the effort.

The problem has now been fixed and Fossil has manufactured "many thousands" of SPOT watches that will hit stores next month, the source says. Microsoft's MSN Direct Service, which will deliver information to the watches, will also be available at that time. According to Microsoft, plans are priced at $9.95 per month or $59 per year; watches start at $129.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirms that SPOT watches will be available at Fossil stores in Las Vegas during CES, and then at retail stores nationwide the following week.

Around the World

The service will be available initially only in U.S. metropolitan areas and parts of southern Canada, but testing has already begun in Europe, the source says.

"Europe presents some interesting challenges. In Italy, for example, radio broadcasting is like the Wild West, it's almost unregulated. You get stations jammed on top of each other," the source says. Still, the service should be available in Europe "very soon," he says.

Whether anyone besides computer geeks will embrace the technology remains to be seen. Past attempts at Dick Tracy-type watches, such as Seiko's MessageWatch, which sold in the mid-to-late nineties, have floundered. Microsoft is betting that consumers are more ready nowadays to embrace such devices, and that technologies have evolved sufficiently to make them attractive.

New and Improved

CES will also be the launch pad for Microsoft's MSN Premium software for broadband Internet users, which offers firewall, antispam, antivirus, and enhanced e-mail and instant messaging options. It will be priced on a subscription basis at $9.95 per month, Microsoft officials say.

MSN Premium is meant for the multiuser broadband household and has features such as parental controls and multiple e-mail accounts. Microsoft will also introduce a dressed-down version called MSN Plus that will be targeted at the single-user broadband customer. Pricing for MSN Plus will be between $4 and $6 a month, Microsoft has said.

The MSN products succeed the current MSN 8 Internet Software and will be the first to be offered worldwide by Microsoft, a spokesperson says. However, at CES Microsoft will launch only English language versions targeted at the U.S. market, she says.

Furthermore, at the show Microsoft will talk about an incremental update to its Windows XP Media Center Edition that is expected out later this year and show off Windows Automotive products for in-car entertainment and navigation. The company is also expected to describe enhancements it is making to its Tablet PC software.

See PC World's ongoing CES coverage.

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