Microsoft has been at the forefront of innovation for plenty of years now, they were behind plenty of innovative technology that is ruled by competitors today. One such technology is the Microsoft SPOT program, short for Smart Personal Objects Technology, which included smart watches in it’s blooming portfolio.
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SPOT was intended to make ordinary household electronics more versatile and ‘smart’ by using FM radio signals to provide users with MSN Direct feeds, such as weather forecasts, news articles, stock prices, sports results and more. The SPOT program had a wide variety of different products in its portfolio including wristwatches, desktop clocks, in-car GPS satellite navigation units and even coffee makers.
Microsoft had a lot of partners in the venture including watchmakers Fossil Inc., Suunto, Swatch, Tissot, as well as Garmin who stayed with SPOT until the bitter end. The concept behind SPOT was brilliant to say the least, but it was flawed by its reliance on FM broadcasting signals. SPOT died a sad and lonely death in 2008, with MSN Direct being discontinued on January 1, 2012.
Microsoft announced the SPOT initiative in December 2003, at the year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the first devices shipped in January 2004. Microsoft made all the right moves, they partnered up with all of the biggest and best watchmakers at the time and catered for both the lower end and the higher end of the market. Renowned Swiss watchmaker, Swatch, even joined the bandwagon and delivered some colourful, well-priced options to the SPOT line-up. Tissot’s High-T was a high-end option that included a touch screen as well as vibrating alerts, of course it came at a price; $725 to be exact. SPOT technology was eventually integrated into Windows Mobile as well.
The Microsoft SPOT smart watches were provided with direct feeds of information by MSN Direct, users paid $9.95 per month or $59.95 per year for the service. Users would receive weather, horoscopes, stocks, news, sports results and calendar notifications as well as short Windows Live Messenger messages. Unlike modern smart watches, however, SPOT smart watches received their information through FM radio signals, a feature that eventually lead to the technology’s silent death.
The entire SPOT network was flawed from its inception; from the beginning its only connectivity option was through FM radio signals. Said radio signals limited use to populated areas in the US and Canada, it was rumoured that Microsoft had been testing the services in Europe, but it was never officially unveiled. As technology advanced, SPOT didn’t, Microsoft never bothered to provide Bluetooth or even WiFi support, and so SPOT’s downward spiral ensued.
The last official SPOT product made was the 2006 Fossil Abacus, released only two years after the SPOT initiative yielded its first products. The Abacus was eventually discontinued in early 2008, and remaining stock was sold off, but Microsoft continued support for all of its products and MSN Direct all the way through to January 1, 2012. Windows Mobile and Garmin GPS units continued using the service all the way to the bitter end.
The Microsoft SPOT initiative was years ahead of its time, it showed off great innovation and had the potential to be something great had Microsoft followed trends in the market, such as the adoption of WiFi or Bluetooth so that it could connect to users’ devices, which were more than capable at the time. Just like with tablets, which Microsoft coined in 2001 already, they had everything going for themselves, but let it all slip through their fingers.
Now, almost ten years later, the smart watch revolution is about to take off with Apple, Samsung, LG and Google rumoured to be working on smart watches of their own. Like with tablets, Apple will probably be the front runner in the smart watch era and Microsoft will once again regret not continuing their efforts into the technology. SPOT had everything going for it and it could have been one of Microsoft’s greatest treasures.
A Microsoft powered smart watch is probably in the works again, it may even feature the latest version of Windows Compact Embedded with live tiles complimenting the latest Windows design, it may be colourful and put smiles on the faces of its Windows Phone users, or they could just be creating another Zune, Kin or Surface RT…