Watch SPOT Run

“Smart wristwatches”—which display customized information such as weather, appointments, and news via a national wireless network—are expected to be available this fall in the United States from watchmakers Citizen, Fossil, and Suunto. The watches use the new “Smart Personal Objects Technology” (SPOT)—actually a set of innovative wireless communication technologies—developed by Microsoft Corp. to “improve the functionality and usefulness of everyday objects.”

The announcement was made Jan. 8 by the watch companies and by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates at the 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where prototypes of the new watches were displayed.

SPOT watch technology centers on what Citizen’s statement calls “an ultra-small chip set [comprising] a central processing unit and a radio receiver chip equipped with an ultra-small FM radio antenna. This chip set allows for enhanced miniaturization, low power consumption, and low cost, thereby making it possible to deliver these technologies to devices as small and as functional as fashionable wristwatches.”

SPOT wristwatch users will be able to customize their timepieces—linked by their chip’s antennae to the nationwide Web-based SPOT network—to receive information like local news, weather, sports updates, personal messages, and appointment reminders. “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. “A SPOT watch simply extends that to glancing periodically for timely information that you can use in the course of your daily activities.”

The watchmakers see SPOT watches as a significant advance. The ability to “deliver timely, personalized information creates entirely new opportunities for the watch world,” says Citizen’s statement. Donald Brewer, Fossil’s vice president of technology, was more effusive. “What we’re developing represents the evolution of watch technology, and I think SPOT will drive the evolution,” he said.

Brewer said his company would use SPOT in new fashion watches for its Fossil, Abacus, and Philippe Starck brands. “Our goal is to take the technology developed by Microsoft, ‘fashionize’ it, and make it sellable to the broadest set of customers,” he said. He expects SPOT timepieces to have a wide appeal. “These watches aren’t ‘geekware,’ but are fashionable products that do something valuable and allow us to go after other major markets.”