Microsoft said this week that intelligent, connected, MSN Direct-based wristwatches (code-named Smart Personal Objects Technology--SPOT--watches) will ship the first week of January. The watches will debut at retail stores in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the 2004 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The Las Vegas introduction of the watches is somewhat appropriate; Microsoft announced the devices there a year ago at the 2003 International CES (although the company first revealed the SPOT technology at COMDEX Fall 2002).
SPOT watches take advantage of an unused portion of the FM band to communicate with MSN servers and download customizable alerts for such things as weather, traffic, sports scores, and messages from friends and family. "This is the next generation of what the watch should be," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said during his 2003 International CES keynote address in January. "You pick a channel--weather, perhaps. It handles the time-zone change and sends messages to the watch. It's been a while since watch technology has improved."
Originally scheduled to go on sale this holiday season, the SPOT watches were delayed a few months to fix a problem with their radio transmitters. Watchmakers Abacus, Fossil, and Suunto will be the first companies to offer the watches, which initially will be sold only in the United States. Service is available in most major US and southern Canadian metropolitan areas (testing in Europe is under way). During the 2004 International CES, Fossil watches will be available at the two Fossil retail locations in Las Vegas. A week later, they go on sale nationwide. SPOT watches will cost about $175 to $300, depending on the make and model, and users interested in the MSN Direct service will need to subscribe for $59 a year or $9.95 a month. The watches will offer basic functionality without the MSN Direct service, Microsoft says.