[image credit – engadget.com]
It took the technology world seventy years to almost make the Dick Tracy’s TV watch a reality. Other then it wasn’t possible to transmit or receive video and it didn’t have the cool antennae it really was close to the real thing. Still the things it could do seemed like the future was here in 2004.
[image – engadget.com]
We are in the midst of a watch revolution of sorts. The role of this simple time device has been changed once again. What at one point was a way to tell time has become the Nano watch and the various Bluetooth watch designs that are entering the market. These watches all look new but as you will find out a small little scrappy company named Microsoft pioneered these watches eight years ago with the help of several large watch manufacturers.
[image credit – engadget.com]
Now this is hard to believe but there was a time before smartphones. Yes I know it’s hard to understand this but it is the truth. It wasn’t even that long ago according to our calendar. There was a dark time known as 2004 that Microsoft decided to try its hands in a different part of the hardware market and dive into the smartwatch category. Since they were Microsoft they were able to sell Fossil, Suunto, Smart and Tissot on the idea of manufacturing these watches. Like Smartphones the word Smartwatches doesn’t even seem that out of the ordinary to our 2012 ears. Back in 2004 there wasn’t such a thing nor was there a market to sell them. The first two I purchased were through CompUSA and they were all but hidden behind the counter. This was in 2006 and the salespeople had no idea what they were looking at.
[image credit – geek.com]
The watches themselves all had different features to allow them to stand out. Fossil dove headfirst into the production of the watches and released various models from one that looked like, fittingly, Dick Tracy’s TV watch to various other square models. They cost $175 and were rather large by the standards of the day. The antennae was in the wrist band and it could be affected by the sweat of the user. Still it included one feature that really stood out. The watch charger used inductive charging to keep the juice flowing. Again this was in 2004 not in 2012. Do you see anyone thanking Fossil or later Palm in 2008 for working on this technology?
The watches could view multiple channels of information. Things such as stocks, news stories, lottery numbers, weather, and later traffic. Along with these you could receive MSN Messenger messages but could not reply to them. More importantly to the business man was the watches integration with Microsoft Outlook calendar. The watch was capable of showing one week of the users calendar on the watch face. To think of it in a modern sense it was the same kind of time killing device we would use a larger smart phone or smaller tablet for.
[image credit engadget.com]
Still one of the bigger complaints was the size of the watches made them uncomfortable and they looked awkward. Two designs would work to fix this towards the end of the watches run. The Suunto N3i would subtract six millimeters of width from the watch and is still, to me, the best looking of the MSN watches. Then finally Fossil released the last Abacus in 2006 with double the memory and a better radio receiver. It wasn’t to far into 2006 when Fossil had removed their name from the watches and just called them “Abacus” watches. Trying to distance themselves from this failure. There was also the Tissot High-Touch which was a $725 high end SPOT watch with a tiny touch screen and all the quality you would expect from Tissot. It is by far the best built of the watches and with the addition of the touch screen one of the more unusual designs.
To this day I feel the MSN Direct’s Smart Personal Objects Technology initiative was ahead of its time and died a death to soon. When you look at the size of the new Bluetooth watches you will find they mimic the MSN direct models pretty closely. In fact Fossil continued to use the Abacus designs for many of its later models without the SPOT technology.
I personally own five of these watches and had gotten quite a lot of attention for them back when the service was on. Microsoft dropped the ball by not knowing how to market the technology less then the tech itself and its a shame.