May 06, 2013, 6:08 AM — Apple, Google and Samsung are all said to be working on smartwatches. This is shaping up as yet one more example of Microsoft getting to a market first and then failing to cash in.
Various reports say Apple is working on what would presumably be called the iWatch. Because we're talking about Apple, there has been no confirmation of those reports, but as many as 100 product designers are said to be hard at work on it. Google's Android division may also be working on a smartwatch. Its offering, sources say, would work not only with Android smartphones and tablets, but with Google Glass as well. And Samsung has confirmed that it's working on a smartwatch.
With so much activity focusing on the intersection of technology and the human wrist, Microsoft is paying attention and is said to be making its own moves toward developing a smartwatch. But in Microsoft's case, that should read "developing a smartwatch again." That's because Microsoft pioneered smartwatches years ago, and then abandoned the concept.
Nearly two decades ago, in 1995, Microsoft and Timex co-developed the Timex Data Link watch, which wirelessly downloaded and displayed data from Windows-based PCs. Though worn by both astronauts and cosmonauts on space missions and given Popular Science's Best of What's New Award and the Popular Mechanics 1995 Design and Engineering Award, it never made a dent in the market, and Timex and Microsoft abandoned it. Then in 2003, Microsoft launched its Smart Watch, which delivered news, weather, traffic information and more over FM frequencies. The Smart Watch was based on Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT), which was meant to be applied to an entire fleet of gadgets, from coffee makers to GPS devices.
That never happened. The watches were bulky and expensive (one model sold for $800), and the SPOT service required a $59 annual subscription. In 2008, Microsoft stopped selling the watches, while still supporting transmissions to existing ones. At the end of 2011, it pulled the plug entirely.