The magazine’s anonymous sources suggest that Microsoft will launch a “smartwatch” at some unannounced point in the next few weeks. The software will reportedly integrate with Google Android smartphones and iPhones in addition to Windows Phones, which is probably for the best considering Microsoft’s share of the smartphone market remains negligible. According to the Forbes report, the hardware may measure the wearer’s heart rate, allowing it to act as a health monitor along the lines of the FitBit or Nike FuelBand.
While Microsoft boasts the technological expertise to put a serviceable device on store-shelves, the question remains whether consumers will gravitate toward it. Microsoft’s history over the past decade is littered with the debris of consumer projects that failed to take off, from the Zune (an iPod competitor that didn’t make much of a dent in the portable-music market) to the Kin (a misbegotten attempt to produce a “social phone” for teenagers). The company achieved some early success with the Kinect hands-free game controller, which sold tens of millions of units as a standalone product for the Xbox 360, but its attempts to integrate that hardware into the next-generation Xbox One was met with mixed reactions from gamers.
Then there’s the Surface tablet, Microsoft’s attempt to remake itself as a “devices and services” company that can compete toe-to-toe with Apple. That portable touch-screen, which features a flexible cover that doubles as a keyboard, might have attracted positive reviews for its sleek design, but sales have been poor, to say the least.
That legacy of failed projects places additional pressure on Microsoft to do something spectacular with wearable electronics. Interoperability with rival software platforms is a good start, but the company will need hardware and software that truly stands out from Apple and the other competitors in the space.
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