Microsoft behind the times?
January 9, 2003 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Is Bill Gates behind the times? (NYT link - reg req'd) Microsoft today introduced designs for "a new class of watch" which can "provide weather information, text messages and other data." The simplest versions "will cost less than $150," the story says.

But Timex currently offers its own, cheaper version: the Internet Messenger Watch for only US$50, and a year's free service, for almost the same features.

Is Microsoft actually behind the times with their 'innovation'? Is this embarrassing for the software giant?
posted by busbyism (33 comments total)
I'm confused. Is this somehow supposed to be a surprise that MS has repackaged someone else's (relatively obvious) idea?
posted by badstone at 10:08 AM on January 9, 2003

Microsoft: We don't make the internet watch. We make the internet watch better.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:10 AM on January 9, 2003

I'm waiting for the inevitable /. style parody of a watch with the blue screen of death. 3, 2, 1...
posted by cell divide at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2003

I've seen the default user interface of Windows XP; clearly no one at Microsoft is capable of feeling any embarrassment whatsoever...
posted by JollyWanker at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2003

also: 157 non-registration required links about the same thing.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2003

hmmm let's see:

- "scroll-wheel" mouse, from Apple research labs.
- .NET ... Java.
- Windows ... Xerox PARC/Apple MacOS.
- PocketPC ... Newton (hell, half the original Newton team now works for MS)
- Access ... dBASE, FoxPro (hey they bought that one)
- SQL Server (original engine was licensed from Sybase)
- VB / Delphi - Yes VB beat Delphi, but they battled with competing/cloned features through several versions, MS wasn't alone in this, Borland copied things like Intellisense.
posted by jkaczor at 10:13 AM on January 9, 2003

These high-tech watches can, for a lot of money and (I assume) interacting with the machine actually change time zone, something my watch can do when I twirl its dial a little bit. Plus the same news-ticker I try to ignore in the supermarket.

Once again, technology is advancing by solving problems that didn't exist.

But I did find this staggering load of jive embedded in this article on the same subject in the Seattle Times (emphasis added):

"The most long-term exciting technology is SPOT because it has a potential to change our lives and change them dramatically," said Rob Enderle, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based analyst with the consultants Giga Information Group.

The devices are also useful, he said. For instance, they could warn someone if a terrorist attack was expected in a region the person was approaching.
posted by argybarg at 10:14 AM on January 9, 2003

Say what you might about the repackaged concept, but the watch represents the first real-world manifestation of Redmond's Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) -- a new initiative first described at the Comdex trade show in Vegas a few months back, which embeds information capability into everyday objects like watches, wallets, alarm clocks, and refrigerator magnets. Along with this technology Microsoft is making efforts to sublease radio spectrum from broadcasters such as Clear Channel to support SPOT. This grab at radio spectrum is what gets my attention. There is an article over at The Register detailing more information on this.
posted by zyfly at 10:20 AM on January 9, 2003

"The Internet? We are not interested in it"
-- Bill Gates, 1993

They've always been behind the times. They just see where the market is going and grab on. In the old days they were lucky. Now they just ram home whatever 'standards' they want. But innovation? That's not how you get rich.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:26 AM on January 9, 2003

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea... "

- Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
posted by grabbingsand at 10:34 AM on January 9, 2003

Now they just ram home whatever 'standards' they want.

Only on the PC. Without their OS monopoly to leverage, they're remarkably unsuccesfull at dominating anything.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:37 AM on January 9, 2003

Ahem ... if you're going to personalize this, busbyism, at least get your villians right. We should be making fun of Ballmer not Gates.
posted by Wulfgar! at 11:03 AM on January 9, 2003

Interesting, you see more and more product enhancements that require some kind of subscription service, that previously were a one time purchase (albeit they had fewer features). Like satellite radio or the digital picture frame. I for one resist this kind of stuff and hardly think its worth the long term cost versus, say, an ordinary radio. From a business point of view it makes sense to draw out your revenue stream but they make me feel like a slave to consumerism.
posted by squidman at 11:27 AM on January 9, 2003

The Timex one looks like something you'd find in the bottom of a cereal box.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:31 AM on January 9, 2003

but they make me feel like a slave to consumerism.

The thing is, they make the slaves to consumerism feel safe and warm.
posted by jpoulos at 11:31 AM on January 9, 2003

Can you imagine if you bought all these "internet enabled" devices that currently exist and ones they are thinking up? (link for the sake of it, sorry) You'd be shelling out $500 a month for not much more than shiny flashing light! They all sound spiffy but there can't be much growth in the long run. There is a limit.

I know, what I'll do is live simply while the rest of the developed world buys all this hoopla, fueling the economy, and I'll end up rich in the long run.

...says the single guy with 2 cars and 4 cameras. But no cable!
posted by squidman at 11:42 AM on January 9, 2003

As a user of XP, OS X and Debian Linux and a zealot of none (though I prefer OS X out of the bunch), I honestly believe the words 'Microsoft' and 'innovation' do not belong together. As far as creating a new widget anyway. Innovation in marketing and selling an idea as their own, yeah, that's where they have their act together.

Truly, what's the most unique thing Microsoft has ever introduced? Flight Simulator?
posted by Tacodog at 12:04 PM on January 9, 2003

argybargy: Once again, technology is advancing by solving problems that didn't exist.

Dead on. I've been thinking the same thing about the camera/phones that mobile service providers have been pushing lately. What do I want a phone that takes low resolution pictures for? Sure, it's neato, but it hardly has any practical applications.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:32 PM on January 9, 2003

Who was it that said "a technology doesn't exist until Microsoft invents it"?

Truly, many people think Bill Gates invented the Internet. No shit. ANY new MS product will appear to most people as a Microsoft first. Such is the power of great marketing, a good story, and an omnipresent monopoly.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:46 PM on January 9, 2003

Jkaczor, should that list include DOS as well?
posted by Dick Paris at 1:10 PM on January 9, 2003

Am I the first to suggest that Metafilter perhaps isn't the best of places to be making snarky cracks about, er, BLUE SCREENS?

posted by effugas at 1:21 PM on January 9, 2003

Should we run over Bill G with an SUV and then tie him to a broken off Antartic iceberg?
posted by squidman at 1:23 PM on January 9, 2003

Ummm... I hate to say it, but Microsoft and timex did pioneer this sort of watch, all the way back in '95.

Credit where credit it due, people. :)
posted by shepd at 1:26 PM on January 9, 2003

So Microsoft was copying Dick Tracy and Apple was building the Newton. Hm.

Back to the present, I think it's interesting to compare Macworld's annoucements to this. The watch is interesting, but it seems to suffer from random technology disorder. On the other hand, the new Powerbooks have a clear reason behind them. One's super lightweight and powerful. The other can replace a desktop, or come close.

iCal, iPhoto, Sherlock, even Mail -- they all do their one set of features very well. All I see here is Microsoft bloating a watch.
posted by jragon at 1:43 PM on January 9, 2003

Is this embarrassing for the software giant?

Only as embarassing as labeling an operating system "New Technologies" (WinNT), when the "new technologies" have already been present in Unix for 30 years.
posted by bingbangbong at 1:45 PM on January 9, 2003

shepd, don't be standing in front of the herds desire to MS bash. People might think you're not one of the "cool" kids.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:13 PM on January 9, 2003

There was another story (can't remember the link, sorry) about these watches that mentioned a second generation that implemented GPS. That might have some utility if married to a mapping function. Not innovative, to be sure, but the form factor is interesting.

OTOH, the same story had Gates saying they were aiming at capturing 10 - 20% of the watch-wearers in the world. That's kind of grandiose, especially for a base price of $150 and in a market where they can't really leverage off Windows.
posted by joaquim at 3:00 PM on January 9, 2003

argybargy: Once again, technology is advancing by solving problems that didn't exist.

eyeballkid: Dead on. I've been thinking the same thing about the camera/phones that mobile service providers have been pushing lately. What do I want a phone that takes low resolution pictures for? Sure, it's neato, but it hardly has any practical applications.

I'm mighty happy with my analog watch--and I'm absolutely in love with my Nokia 3650 with built in camera. Yes the pictures are low res, but I've found that having a camera with me at all times leads me to take all kinds of snaps I never would have otherwise--and the ability to send via MMS (which I have not set up yet) is both fun and practical, a realtor friend, for example, wants to have such a phone to take pictures of hot properties on the spot and send them via MMS immediately to clients. We'll see if the MMS uptake is as steep as SMS, but that is more or less what many mobile operators are counting on . . .
posted by donovan at 3:33 PM on January 9, 2003

a better question is this: has microsoft ever been first to do anything?
posted by muppetboy at 3:48 PM on January 9, 2003

Um, they were the first to think blue and green actually went together well in anything, much less an operating system. What next, plaids and florals?

I have a mobile phone, it's fairly small, fits in my pocket. It sets it's own time. It receives Internet information. It's prepaid, and costs me around 20$US every 3 months. It cost me $89 to buy. But hey, now I can get it in a watch.

So I'm out on the go, and well look, a weather report comes in on my watch. Boy, it's a good thing my watch told me what the current cloud conditions are, because now I don't have to look up.

Everyone wants to be more connected, more in touch. I want to be less in touch. I carry my laptop sometimes, but when I use it, I am writing, and don't need an Internet connection. I don't need the Internet interupting me. If I really need to get in touch, I can use my mobile phone. And it costs a lot less than those 60 dollar a month mobile Internet services that go slower than dial up, which results in me getting just about the same information I can get directly on my phone.

If you want a camera, carry one. I carry mine. If you want a PDA, carry one. I carry my Tungsten T everywhere. If you need a cell phone, carry one. I can fit all these items in my pockets when I have my cargos on, and when I don't, I simply use a waist camera bag for the camera.

Maybe it is just me, but I am tired of integration. A want a little segregation in my gadgets. When I want to listen to music, I use an iPod. When I want to make a call, I use my phone.

Doesn't help these pager-watch things always look like something that your slow friend from high school wore because his parents didn't want him to have a watch that had sharp edges so it was big and plastic and dorky looking. (Hey look, it's not 1995 and I called something dorky looking.)

When these companies combine products together, they cut corners on them all, resulting in a poor quality of each thing. I could have a phone with PDA and camera on it for 600 dollars. Or I could buy a PDA of the quality in the phone, a cheap phone, and a 2 or 3 megapixel camera for under 400. And they are all going to be better quality seperated than they would be combined.

Companies would do better to stop solving problems that don't need solving, and worry about the ones that do. Doesn't Microsoft have better things to do than worry about watches when their server software keeps getting delayed, and is further canabalized in market share my Linux; their game system is suffering; their main operating system is still fairly unstable; security problems are still quite prevelant; their Media Jukebox, while copying Apple technique, is still years behind the competition; Outlook continues to be crash prone 4 versions later; their consumer support of multimedia applications (photos/movies) is still completely lackluster; their Internet service is losing money hand over fist.... but let's worry about watches and alarm clocks.
posted by benjh at 6:05 PM on January 9, 2003

Um...Timex actually discontinued that watch because (wait for it) no one wanted to buy them.

The cool thing Timex is working on is a partnership with Mobil that builds Speedpass technology into the watch. Electronic cash, in other words, on your watch. Swatch has something similar.
posted by oddovid at 9:27 PM on January 9, 2003

Truly, what's the most unique thing Microsoft has ever introduced? Flight Simulator?

They bought that from Bruce Artwick, who wrote it for the Apple II before there was MS-DOS. As for unique, there's Bob. It was certainly... unique. Kinda like an Edsel.
posted by kindall at 9:31 PM on January 9, 2003

I have a Swatch pager watch, quite old, sitting in a drawer at home (no service for it here in Australia)

oddovoid is thinking of the Swatch Access -- a contactless smartcard in a Swatch. I used to collect them and I still have quite a decent collection of some of the rarer Swatch Access watches (including a Fifth Element one).

However, despite my collection of around 50 watches (mostly swatch but also a Casio Wristcam and Casio GPS watch) I don't actually wear one on a daily basis. Nor do most of my friends -- we all use out mobile phones for the time...
posted by krisjohn at 11:14 PM on January 9, 2003

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