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5/31/2014
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Microsoft Smartwatch: Nadella's Next Strategy Step?

Microsoft smartwatch rumors heat up again, suggesting a cross-platform strategy that suits CEO Satya Nadella's goals.

Surface Pro 3 Vs. World: Mobile Smackdown
Surface Pro 3 Vs. World: Mobile Smackdown
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Microsoft could launch a health-oriented smartwatch as soon as this summer, according to a new report. Intriguingly, the device allegedly will be compatible not only with Windows Phone handsets, but also with iPhones and Android smartphones. A flurry of reports last year claimed Microsoft was developing a smartwatch, but until recently, new details had been scant.

Microsoft's smartwatch will include sensors developed by the company's Xbox Kinect team, according to Forbes, which cited "multiple sources with knowledge of [Microsoft's] plans." The sensors will continuously measure the wearer's heart rate and sync with a smartphone app.

[How is Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's strategy evolving? Read Microsoft's Nadella: We're in 'Post-Post' PC Era.]

According to the sources, the smartwatch will run two days between charges and resembles Samsung's Gear Fit. Microsoft's version will reportedly differ, however, in that its color touchscreen, roughly "the size of half a stick of gum," will be positioned on the underside of the wearer's wrist. This orientation could give the user more privacy when checking notifications, the article said. The device's release date is reportedly unclear, but it could arrive as soon as this summer.

A Microsoft smartwatch patent, originally filed in 2012, came to light this month. It describes a device with a touch display positioned atop the wearer's wrist, like a traditional watch. The underside of the display includes an optical light sensor to measure various health-related metrics. The document also says the display unit can be removed -- a tactic designed to make the wristband easier to clean.

Microsoft's smartwatch will allegedly resemble Samsung's Gear Fit.
Microsoft's smartwatch will allegedly resemble Samsung's Gear Fit.

In April 2013, The Wall Street Journal, citing supply chain sources, reported that Microsoft was sourcing components for a smartwatch, rumored at the time to feature a 1.5-inch touchscreen. Several publications ran additional reports the following July. The new rumors claimed that smartwatch development had moved from the Xbox team to the Surface team, and that the device would feature a removable wristband, which would be available in several colors.

Microsoft hasn't commented on its alleged smartwatch. That said, several of new CEO Satya Nadella's early appearances have included broad references to wearable devices and the Internet of Things. A December study also revealed some of Microsoft's research with health-related wearable devices, in this case a mood-monitoring smart bra prototype. That device, which imposed a number of inconveniences on wearers, was designed more for its research value than its real-world viability. Even so, Microsoft technology will probably end up on users' wrists sooner than later, whether through hardware or some new iteration of Windows.

Microsoft has said little about its wearable technology strategy, but its research shows the company is interested.
Microsoft has said little about its wearable technology strategy, but its research shows the company is interested.

If Microsoft releases a wearable product this summer, it will join a market just starting to heat up. Sony, Samsung, Google, and several other big names are already active in this space. Startup sensations such as Pebble only make the nascent market more competitive. Samsung recently announced the Samsung Digital Health Initiative, an open hardware and open software platform designed to turn the health data that wearable devices collect into useful insights.

Still, no one has released a breakthrough product, and Microsoft might feel it's the right time to strike. The cross-platform strategy mentioned in the new report would certainly be consistent with Nadella's tactics so far, exemplified by products such as the Office for iPad suite. The strategy also makes practical sense. Windows Phone is still a distant third in the smartphone race, which means that any Windows Phone-smartwatch exclusivity could alienate millions of would-be buyers. If the device works well with all popular smartphones, however, Microsoft could carve out a big presence in a growing market.

Apple is also rumored to be working on the so-called iWatch, which supply-chain analysts expect will launch this year. The company has recently hired several high-profile employees from the fashion, fitness, and medical technology industries, which has only increased anticipation.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/5/2014 | 9:18:08 AM
Re: Another flop product?
I suppose wearing a watch is more convenient than carrying something in your pocket or purse, although there is a behavioral change required. When I looked into watch sales (something I've not researched before), they are actually going up, according to Euromonitor International. In the US, 2013 sales were $7.2 billion and total watch sales are expected to grow 30% by 2017, the research firm predicts. It's due, in part, to the high price of luxury watches like Rolex. People typically buy one nice watch instead of several watches, as they did in the past (one for work, one dressy one, etc.), the article in MarketWatch said. Smartwatches are most likely to replace multi-purpose watches but shouldn't impact the sale of high-end watches, according to this story. 

That makes sense to me. If you wear a watch as a piece of jewelry or as a status symbol, then an iWatch or a Samsung smartwatch probably won't have the same effect as a $10K Rolex or a diamond and gold watch. If, however, you're wearing a watch because you need it to do specific tasks -- tell time, act as a stopwatch, be a compass, etc. -- then a smartwatch that can do these jobs and more could be a much better alternative.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/5/2014 | 9:11:15 AM
Re: Another flop product?
Wearables will definitely be part of the healthcare solution. We already see some healthcare providers experimenting with "prescribing" wearables to at-risk patients such as teen diabetics; while insurance doesn't cover these fitness bands, hospitals/clinics are using research grants to donate the bands to financially disadvantaged youths. Once we see better apps that'll be even more useful, since studies show the majority of people across the financial spectrum have smartphones and there are already government programs in place to get these phones in the hands of the poor. Physicians need a manageable way to review this data. One doctor suggested to me a traffic light solution: Red lights to alert doctors to areas in which patients were failing (say, they weren't exercising enough) and green lights to show they were following directions (for example, monitoring their glucose levels correctly) so docs didn't have to go through data day-by-day -- an impossible task!

In addition, we need clearcut rules to protect patients' data. Right now, does anyone know how their personal information is collected, stored, or used by these wearable makers? Does anyone know if these vendors can change their ToS on a whim (as one company notably did recently when it was acquired by a larger firm)? Vendors can anonymize then sell this data and, while that may be fine by most people, I'd like to see a way for users to easily opt-in or, at least, opt-out at any time they choose. Not sure if that's the case today across all these developers, but i sincerely doubt it!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/4/2014 | 6:48:47 PM
Re: Another flop product?
"I can just see it now - Hordes of junior diagnosticians besieging their doctors with reams of questionable data taken with an uncertified device by individuals with no clinical background. An unhappy time for all."


This is the "webMD effect" I was talking about in my other post. That said, if a company can provide useful and reliable data, it will be a breakthrough. I can understand why so many companies are pouring resources into this line of research; when someone finally cracks it, the benefits could be immense. I was impressed that Apple hooked up with the Mayo Clinic, which brings iWatch effort at least the perception (hopefully more) of medical legitimacy. We might be many years away from wearable devices that connect to the cloud and measure changes in biometrics against our genomic code (or something equally sci-fi)-- but if a device-maker chooses the right metrics (i.e. ones that can be usefully and accurately tracked), I think it will be a huge deal. When I see Samsung tout a watch that makes phone calls, that's when I think "solution without a problem." But health care is a big problem, and sooner or later, wearables will be part of the solution.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/4/2014 | 6:42:02 PM
Re: limited
Indeed, but I'm not sure Samsung is taking the right approach. Phone calls from my watch? Maybe I'm missing something, but I could care less-- though I do like the function Apple just revealed that will let you answer iPhone calls on a Mac.

I think smartwatches will have some utility for notifications, and perhaps even placing and receiving calls. But I'm much more intrigued by the health aspects. No wearables manufacturer has really cracked it yet, and I suspect Apple, rather than Microsoft, will be the first, given the resources they seem to be pouring into it.  But as someone who lost over 100 pounds after graduating from college, I can testify: Technology can make a difference in people's lives if it makes them aware of their health and progress. If we soon have devices that move beyond step-counting and heart rate monitors into advanced biometrics, it will change the way we approach fitness, if not medicine in general. That said, I am fearful of the "webMD effect" in which technology gives people partial or bad information, leading them to believe they have ailments that they don't.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/4/2014 | 10:59:41 AM
Re: Another flop product?
@SaneIT and @Gigi3: I have wondered whether people will wear smartwatches, but that's a personal issue because I don't like watches! Have more people stopped wearing them because they now carry phones? And would smartwatches reverse that trend? 

 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/4/2014 | 10:48:05 AM
Re: Another flop product?
Yes, I agree @SaneIT, about giving clinicians a traffic-light-like color scheme: Red meaning stop, green meaning go, and yellow meaning caution on a smartwatch or other wearable. The same kind of system works with other verticals too. Who isn't pressed for time these days?!
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 4:29:44 PM
Re: Another flop product?
The huge problem here is that clinicians don't have time to spend with patients already; isn't the average face time about 7 minutes or 10 minutes? For this personal data to be useful and usable, someone must figure out a way to send an easily digestible version of the data to clinicians. As one doctor told me -- perhaps a green checkmark to indicate a patient has done enough exercise for the past month, eaten nutritiously, etc.? And a red X in those areas s/he was non-compliant. This would pop up on the patient's EHR when they walked into the room and not a moment sooner! We know doctors aren't going to wade through reams of data about each patient's daily habits. There's no reason they should.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 4:25:59 PM
Re: Wearable devicess from MS
If Microsoft enters the smartwatch space, it's smart to expand its OS beyond Windows. Consumers don't care about the OS. And when you're talking about something that people wear, they can be especially fickle and especially conscious of how something looks and feels. If I was MS, I'd worry more about aesthetics this time!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/31/2014 | 1:45:18 PM
Re: And...?
I think you're right about Nike. It makes more sense for them to cozy up to Apple than to try to compete on their own. Wearables are going to be big ecosystem plays, and I'm not sure Nike wants to go against the big guns in that space.
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