Microsoft must be feeling it’s lost a little sheen on its tablet and smartphone products–no matter how nicely they’re designed they’re just not selling well. This class of device is surely playing a part in the gentle slide of the traditional PC market, which is Redmond’s main stomping ground. So addressing the mobile tech world and achieving success there is likely critical to the company’s long-term fortunes. So how’s it going to do this? The latest hot MS rumor gives one possible answer: It’s going to make a smartwatch.
The Verge has heard from sources that Microsoft is quite serious about smartwatches, and has progressed to the point it’s prototyping them. It’s said to be requesting 1.5-inch displays from component manufacturers and has seemingly settled on a design
that includes removable straps. Some rumors suggest MS is testing prototypes made of oxynitride aluminum, also dubbed “translucent aluminum” in a very Star Trek style. This space-age material is light, strong, optically transparent in the visible range, and is four times harder than silica glass and nearly as hard as sapphire–the wonder material that some speculate may end up as smartphone screens. All in all it sounds great.
But there’s an interesting wrinkle in the story. The Mwatch–let’s call it that for now–was previously being developed by the Xbox accessories team, and was centered around the idea of the “Joule” heart rate monitor that would sync with Kinect and help users track their digital workout routines. Now the Mwatch has fallen under the control of the Surface team, probably as part of the company’s recent restructuring and realignment. The prototypes have Surface connectors and are said to run versions of Windows 8 so that they can connect up to other Microsoft devices powered by Windows.
The intention is clear here. If the rumors prove true, Microsoft is going to try to build a companion smartwatch that supports Windows Phone or Surface tablet devices in much the same way that we presume Apple’s rumored iWatch would do–and in the same way many existing smartwatches function. You’ll probably be able to tap at your watches’ touchscreen and control music playing on your device, answer or reject calls and so on.
It’s at this point you start to wonder when someone will crack a BSOD or RROD joke about the Mwatch. Given Microsoft’s track record in reliability and virus susceptibility, it’s inevitable…as are big questions about the viability of an Mwatch. It is arguable that recent MS success with high design values may solve the “ugly smartwatch” problem. But, Surface on your wrist–is that something the average Joe would like to buy? Would the consumer look past Microsoft’s small market share in the tablet and smartphone world, disregard the “helping the NSA” issue and trust Microsoft enough to wear their gadget on their wrist 24-7-365?
The Mwatch might work well if it integrated with the Xbox, not least because you’d be able to interact with your gamer friends through the device and possibly, if its tech is up to scratch, game on it to a certain extent. But with an iWatch looming on the horizon, also certain to be a joy to look at and to take many lessons in mobile computing from the iPad and iPhone, run a flavor of iOS and–just possibly–bring Siri to your wrist, can Microsoft leverage its not-so-successful Surface into a successful wrist-borne Windows machine? It’s a huge gamble. But Microsoft’s engineers and business planners will be sensitive to the data payoff and the brand exposure of any future Mwatch device…so presumably it’s worth the risk.
[Image: Flickr user Miggslives]