Watch companies partner with Microsoft to make “Smart Watches”

“Smart wristwatches”-whose faces display customized information like weather and news received from a national wireless network-will be available this fall from watchmakers Citizen, Fossil and Suunto. The watches use the new “Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT),” developed by Microsoft Corp. to “improve the functionality and usefulness of everyday objects.”

The announcement was made Jan. 8 by Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates at the 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Prototypes of the new watches were displayed at CES.

“People are used to looking at their wrists to see what time it is,” said Bill Mitchell, founder and general manager of the Microsoft Smart Personal Objects Technology group, after the announcement, in an interview with Microsoft’s press department. “A SPOT wristwatch simply extends [that] to glancing periodically for timely information … that you can use practically in the course of your daily activities.

Microsoft “always thought that wristwatches would be the first category of devices built on SPOT technology, [because] the watch-making industry was really ready for this kind of innovation,” said Roger Gulrajani, the Microsoft group’s director of marketing. “We believed that by working together with watch-makers to create new application scenarios, we had the opportunity to ignite a change in the way people use watches.”

“We are [an] evolutionary leap, where a watch no longer needs to be limited to simply keeping time,” agreed Donald Brewer, Fossil’s vice president of technology. “People are ready for watches to become a functional technology element so we can eliminate the need to carry around one of the many devices we now stuff in our pockets.”

Smart watches-linked with the nationwide wireless Web-based SPOT network-will be able to display such information as news, weather and sports results, said Mitchell. “Subscribers can customize information within each channel so they see only what is important and relevant to them. They establish their preferences by interacting with a simple SPOT device Web site from their personal computer. A personalized Web site makes the care and nurturing of multiple smart devices easy and convenient.”

Brewer, told the Microsoft interviewer that his company will use SPOT in fashion watches for its Fossil, Abacus and Philippe Stark brands. “Our goal is to take the technology developed by Microsoft and ‘fashionize’ it, really make it sellable to the broadest set of customers,” said Brewster. The SPOT technology is socially suitable to the retro and sporty looks popular now in watch designs, many of which have larger watch faces, he noted. “The SPOT watch display is no larger than these, and I believe this is an opportune time for watches that combine this kind of form and function.” Though the target audience is 15 to 35 years old, he said, “these watches aren’t ‘geekware,’ but are fashionable products that do something valuable [and] allow us to go after other major markets.”

For example, a traveling businessman wearing a smart watch will be able to get automatic updates to current time, weather forecasts, news, stock closings and sports scores. “All the information he would normally pick up at his laptop in the morning back in the office … now appears on his wrist wherever he goes,” he said.

“What we are developing [with Microsoft] is definitely a new form factor, a connected device that keeps time and resides on your wrist. I think it represents the evolution of watch technology, and I think SPOT is what will drive the evolution.”