Microsoft plans to introduce a wearable device “within the next few weeks,” according to Forbes.
The report says the device is a smartwatch that can track its wearer’s heart rate and “work across different mobile platforms,” which might mean it’s compatible with iOS and Android handsets — not just Windows devices.
It will also reportedly last two full days on a single charge — that’s better than most current Android smartwatches from Motorola and Samsung, and even better than Apple’s Watch, which all last about a day on a single charge.
Microsoft will reportedly launch its smartwatch before year’s end to “capture the lucrative holiday season, a timeline Apple was reportedly targeting before it delayed its own Watch to early 2015.”
From a business perspective, this seems like a smart move for Microsoft. Its alleged wearable sounds like it can do most things other smartwatches can do: measure your fitness levels and offer other smartphone functions and applications right on your wrist.
Though it may not have quite the luxury appeal as Apple’s offering, Microsoft’s watch will presumably be a bit cheaper: The Apple Watch will start at $US350, and could cost up to several thousand dollars. Microsoft’s rival phones and tablets are cheaper than Apple’s devices, so its smartwatch should be, too. Most Android watches cost between $US200 and $US300; Microsoft’s will probably be priced around that range.
So, bottom line: Microsoft might have a smartwatch that offers the same basic features as the Apple Watch, in a device that lasts a full day longer than the Apple Watch, which is expected to arrive sooner than the Apple Watch.
If it has an attractive design (and price point), this could be Microsoft’s big moment.
On numerous occasions, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said he regretted Microsoft’s inability to address the growing mobile market just as the iPhone and Google’s Android were taking off. Of Microsoft, Ballmer said, “We didn’t put the hardware and software together soon enough.”
Getting in early on a possible trendsetting product category — wearables — could be a worthwhile investment. Especially if it can get there before Apple.
But there are a couple of issues Microsoft needs to address if it hopes to be the first company with a truly popular smartwatch:
- Trust. Lest we forget, Microsoft last year was accused of working with the NSA to circumvent its encryption protocols and intercept user data from its popular applications, including Outlook, the company’s email client, and Skype, the video conferencing service it purchased in 2012. Microsoft now offers encryption for a few major services, including OneDrive and Outlook, and it’s also opening more Transparency Centres around the US to let government agencies review Microsoft’s source code to show that there are no security issues or back doors. Still, Microsoft has not announced plans like Apple or Google to encrypt all its software by default, so users still have some reason to be wary — especially since a smartwatch would likely track a lot of personal data about one’s health and tech habits.
- Apps. As Microsoft is painfully aware, having an abundance of third-party apps is essential for attracting customers and driving sales. Apple and Google’s ecosystems are much larger than Microsoft’s Windows, and the Windows Store is also a bit of a mess right now. But all three companies are more or less starting from zero in the wearables department. Microsoft could get a big head start on Apple, in particular, but it will need to incentivise developers to build plenty of apps for its device. Having a few Microsoft apps in there is helpful, but the stars of the Windows world — Word, PowerPoint, and Excel — likely won’t be available for the wrist, so Microsoft will need to find some other ways to make its watch appealing for more than just fitness (there are plenty of other cheaper devices for just that).
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft approaches its smartwatch. It could be the first major product in the Satya Nadella Era, and the first product in a long while where Microsoft is actually ahead of others, in terms of hardware basics. Great battery life and a reasonable price point would be a good start, but Microsoft will need to re-establish trust with consumers by offering advanced encryption — and really focus on the company’s bread and butter, which is software — in order to leapfrog Apple and Google in the up-and-coming wearable space.
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