One of the most intriguing products to come out of Microsoft lately is the new SPOT watch. SPOT stands for Smart Personal Object Technology, and it is the underlying technology in a new breed of one-way, radio-based timepieces from Microsoft and partners such as Fossil and Suunto.
After a full year of gestation and various false starts, the first generation of SPOT watches hit the market last Christmas and quickly became a must-have product for the extreme-early-adopter set. The watches are not very stylish, but they are extremely functional. They use FM-based radio signals to send and receive data throughout the day. Wearers can customize the data feed on the Web via Microsoft’s MSN Direct site. Prices for the watches range from $149 to about $300 and require a year’s subscription of $59.00.
The service itself is very consumer oriented; a user selects the type of data he wants transmitted to him through what Microsoft calls channels. There are channels for news, weather, calendar and appointments, for tracking stocks and, of course, for customizing time and time zones. The watch can even receive messages from anyone who has an MSN messaging account.
I have been testing the Abacus watch from Fossil and the slightly larger Suunto watch for three months and find that I not only really like them but have become somewhat addicted to them. Bear in mind that I am an infomaniac and love keeping up-to-date on news, stocks and weather. I admit, however, that I am the exception when it comes to infotainment consumption; it is still unclear to me how big the market is for a watch of this nature. I am encouraging Microsoft to add more channels, attract more watch partners and help partners create watches that are more stylish.
The best thing about this product concept in general is that it actually has some serious potential for use well beyond mainstream consumer markets. Although it is based on old-fashioned, one-way radio signals, it does send them through very consistent FM frequencies that are basically ubiquitous.
Indeed, it is the radio messaging architecture behind these watches that really fascinates me; this creates very interesting potential for the enterprise. One of the simplest ideas is to create a name badge that has a simple, square clock display that incorporates the FM radio chip. Companies could make this part of an employee’s ID badge. Although its primary role would be to secure entry, it would double as a one-way communication system in which managers could send employees up-to-date info on factory floor schedules or specific duty instructions.
If you study the SPOT concept closely and the utilitarian nature of its one-way FM system, it is clear that the SPOT watch is just the first product of many. In the near future we’ll see myriad devices taking advantage of our national FM radio network that will be snapped up by consumers and businesses alike. •
Tim Bajarin is president of Creative Strategies (www.
creativestrategies.com), a consulting firm based in Campbell, Calif.