Microsoft Gives Smartwatches Another Try

Remember SPOT? While it may have gone the way of the Zune, Microsoft appears to be readying another smartwatch as rivals eye the burgeoning market.

Pebble, one of biggest crowd-funding successes on Kickstarter, helped catapult wearable IT back into the limelight last year. Now, Microsoft is reportedly eyeing a smartwatch of its own.

The e-paper-based, Bluetooth-enabled Pebble smartwatch, which can link with iPhone and Android handsets, hauled in over $10 million by its May 18, 2012, deadline. Among its many uses, the customizable device can be used to display incoming messages and emails, control music, log distance and speed and, of course, tell time.

Nearly 69,000 backers pledged at least $1 dollar—although the bulk contributed $125 or more—to Palo Alto, Calif.-based Pebble Technology, indicating that there is a ready, perhaps robust, market for the technology. Although its first stab at smartwatches never quite caught on with consumers, Microsoft is at least exploring the possibility of re-entering the market and capitalizing on the growing popularity of wearable tech, according to an April 15 report in The Wall Street Journal.

Sources told the news organization that Microsoft has approached component makers and requested 1.5-inch displays for a touch-capable smartwatch. The report indicates that while a new smartwatch from Redmond isn't necessarily a sure thing—Microsoft is staying mum on the subject—the project has progressed far enough to warrant some earnest engagement with electronics suppliers.

"One executive said he met with Microsoft's research and development team at the software company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters. But it's unclear whether Microsoft will opt to move ahead with the watch, they said," according to the Journal.

The news follows persistent industry rumblings about Apple's interest in creating an "iWatch." Apple, in collaboration with Intel, is reportedly prepping a smartwatch with a 1.5-inch OLED display that can interact with devices like the iPhone and iPad. According to, the watch will feature Bluetooth connectivity—perhaps be Bluetooth 4.0 complaint, with support for the Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) spec—and indium tin oxide- (ITO-) coated glass from RiTdisplay, a Taiwanese panel maker.

Other device makers are joining the smartwatch craze, including Samsung. On March 19 it was revealed that the South Korean consumer electronics giant was working on a similar device. Google and LG are also expected to follow suit. Sony already has an Android-powered, OLED touch-screen model on the market, called SmartWatch, appropriately enough.

While Microsoft may appear to be a latecomer to the wearable technology race, the tech titan has a long, if uncelebrated, history with smartwatches.

A decade ago, the company first showed off smartwatches based on its Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT), which delivered personalized content over FM-radio frequencies via a service called MSN Direct. Considered one of Microsoft's most notable flops, the service was eventually shuttered in 2012.

Better luck this time?

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...