Nick Hayek Jr. of Swatch with actress Mischa Barton and Bill Gates, unveiling new watches in 2004. (Microsoft photo)

Microsoft’s Smart Personal Object Technology, also known as SPOT, was originally unveiled by Bill Gates a decade ago. It was a neat concept — using FM transmissions to deliver lightweight data services such as news headlines, sports scores, gas prices and weather to devices. It started with watches and later expanded to GPS navigation units and even a coffee maker.

Of course, it was our phones that ended up being the smart devices in our lives, giving us all of that information and more via cellular and WiFi networks.

And yesterday marked the official end of the Microsoft initiative, as the MSN Direct service that powered the devices went dark, as noted by Engadget.

The end of the service was not a surprise. Sales of the watches were discontinued in 2008, and MSN Direct’s Jan. 1, 2012, end of life was announced in October 2009. The SPOT initiative was long ago relegated to the status of flop.

I’ve covered this one almost since the beginning, and remember listening to Bill Gates as he demonstrated his watch to a group of reporters at a small gathering after the SPOT unveiling in Las Vegas. Even back then, Gates seemed to realize that it was a bit of a novelty product, in part because of the bulky designs of the first-generation watches, but also in a broader sense.

The watches and follow-up devices pointed accurately to a future of connected devices, but in the end they weren’t the right implementation to connect with mainstream consumers. It’s an example of Microsoft having a good sense for where technology was headed but not clearly seeing how people would incorporate the connected world into their everyday lives.

But hey, let’s give the company some credit for at least attempting to do Dick Tracy proud.

Bill Gates with a lineup of SPOT prototypes at COMDEX in 2002. (Microsoft photo)
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  • Guest

    I support and celebrate Microsoft’s history of taking risks on new technologies like smart watches. I expect that Microsoft will continue to try new things in 2012 and that these risks, while not immediately successful, will be needed to help Microsoft discover new revenue opportunities.

    • Guest

      There’s a difference between taking bold risks that occasionally fail versus just being stupid. I can’t think of another technology company that has wasted more money on more failed initiatives that MS. That has already allowed others to grow faster than MS and in some cases larger and more valuable as well. And if it doesn’t get fixed soon, there won’t be an independent MS in a couple more years because it will have been bought by those with better batting averages.

      • Guest

        I seem to remember iPod, in 2001, being described as “stupid” and “failed.” Since then more than 500 million have been sold.

        I support Microsoft in their effort to find the next “stupid” idea.

        • Guest

          Really? I don’t remember that. But comparing the record of Apple to MS over the past ten years is laughable. Apple has spent  a tenth as much on R&D and acquisitions, yet yielded massive successes with iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Even the Macbook has been steadily gaining share every quarter since Vista launched, and the MBA has set the bar that every PC vendor is now desperately trying to match. Keep supporting MS’s next “stupid” idea. As long as Ballmer is still CEO, it won’t be a long wait.

        • Wesley Ginn

          The only person that described the iPod as “stupid” and a “failed” idea was Ballmer.

        • Les

           I am fairly certain you are employing a revisionist memory.

      • Starflyer

        > I can’t think of another technology company that has wasted more money on more failed initiatives that MS.

        Uh, Google anyone?

        • James Power

          The key here being failed initiatives and wasted money

          Google’s only real ‘failure’ was what, Wave? Which is still a neat project that is now in the hands of the open source community, and was a small team anyway so it isn’t like a huge amount of money was wasted on the product.

      • J P

        Really? You’ve managed to miss all of Google’s failures over the years?

        • itched

          All the ones that they open source & incorporate into other products?

    • Anonymous

      well, let’s hope they take risks that are a little bit more well thought out than Bob.

      by the way, Guest, are you schizoid.

      • Chuckop

        Microsoft Bob was extremely well thought out, and executed well.  I was part of it for a short period.  The fact that the product failed in the marketplace was not due to a lack of forethought, planning and execution.

        • Karl Jeffery

          “The fact that the product failed in the marketplace was not due to a lack of forethought, planning and execution”
          NO. The reason all these MS initiatives fail in the marketplace is precisely because of their obsessions with forethought, planning and execution. They apply massive teams to a rigid / complete plan without any customer/market validation or feedback and then wonder why they keep failing.

          The need to apply the concepts of small agile teams that engage with consumers through a series of short “sprints” whilst remaining open minded and allowing their products to evolve into something that people want, need and will pay for.

          There was one small part of MS that achieved this model – Pioneer Studios in Seattle, the guys there came up with a brilliant tablet 2 years before the iPhone but it was killed by Balmer because it could be disruptive to their Windows franchise.

          So, what’s better – being disrupted by your own team or being disrupted by Apple, I think the two companies market caps answer that question.

  • TBeckner

    Interestingly enough, data, music, etc is headed back to watches and with Siri maybe voice response, and if the power problem can be solved, ultimately the watch format could be the smartphone of the future.

  • Guest

    Another example of MS being ahead on vision but ultimately failing with product and execution.

  • FrankCatalano

    And before SPOT, Microsoft co-developed the Datalink watch line with Timex, going back to 1994. (I recall wearing one at the time, though bulky did not equal cool.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see MS get back into this form factor at some point.

    After all, my new, square, small iPod nano 6th gen has an optional accessory: a watch band. Now if it only had wireless data capability.

  • J

    I can’t believe that it took years to remove this product from active selling status. It was generally regarded as a joke across the company in 2004 but most people thought that the team was so well connected to MSFT brass that it would get a five year plan regardless of the market.

  • ElektroDragon

    I wanted to buy one of these 10 years ago, but the there was no service in my area. 

  • Joshuadburns


  • Trbnbill

    Can’t this guy come up with his own original ideas? It’s a Sieko Receptor watch. That’s the thing about karma, it comes around to bite you in the ass.

  • Smokey Behr

    Garmin used the MSN Direct feed to display real time traffic info, gas prices, weather forecasts, and other stuff direct to the GPS device. I thought it was a trick idea until I found out how expensive it was.

  • See the Light

    Microsoft’s best technology is stolen, extorted or purchased from other companies.  Their OS is a knock off of Apple’s OS.  Zune was the failed copy of the iPod.  The Windoze phone was a poor shadow of the iPhone.  There’s a reason microsoft is not the world’s biggest tech company anymore.  They can’t bully other companies like they used to, and very little of what they have that is worthwhile is even their idea.

    Microsoft is dead.  It’s just too big and too stupid to fall down… yet.

    • Dave

      Purchased, maybe… Stolen?  Extorted?  In your mind, maybe, but not in reality.  Apple based their OS on Debian Linux (that’s right, they didn’t even write their core code).  Windows XP/Vista/7 are written by Microsoft from the ground up.  It’s not even worth responding to your other points, you clearly have an axe to grind – shame it’s clouding your judgement.

      • Tim Salt

        I a

        • Anonymous

          Turning tides towards mac? Just tell me if people around the globe is as rich as you and no other option to buy cheaper device with quality to choose from. iPad cannot even have a worthy file system to navigate around apps. Nothing but a toy to iSheep like you.

      • Dermot

        Wrong. Mac OS X is based on Darwin, which is a fork of FreeBSD. If you can’t tell the difference, you have no business commenting.

        Microsoft paid a pittance to buy QDOS which was a rip-off of CP/M. They made it into MS-DOS and made a fortune. They hired Dave Cutler out of DEC (he wrote VMS) to write Windows NT, and DEC sued. They settled out of court. There are a number of similarities between VMS (a hugely popular mini/mainframe OS of its day) and Windows NT. Windows NT begat ’95 and all the other variants.

        At least Apple admits they forked Darwin.

      • Febonio7

        Yeah this guy is way out dude.

  • Aaron Evans

    Wow! A decade with no product and no customers — not even a press release after the initial one — and they’re finally clearing out the cobwebs.  Microsoft is a long way from dying.   

  • IGnatius T Foobar

    Microsoft is a company that just doesn’t get it.  Time and time again they fail when forced to actually compete in the marketplace.  Microsoft is the Windows and Office company, and nothing else.  The world has moved on.

    • Anonymous

      I guess you’re stupid not to know that MS has several high end products used in the enterprise and has gaming console as well. Pathetic that you only know Windows and Office.

      • IGnatius T Foobar

        Microsoft only gains traction when they are able to leverage their Windows and Office monopolies.  All of their products are low quality crap foisted upon an unwilling public by thug tactics.  Nobody *willingly* chooses Microsoft products; they simply feel they have to or that they have no other choice.  When given a choice people will never choose Microsoft.

        The fact that you feel I am “stupid” for having such an opinion only puts your own ignorance on display.

        • Anonymous

          Get over that stupid monopolitic rant of yours because it’s past history. There are lots of players around and your neck is not being tied to Microsoft. Everybody has a choice. If they have wide user base that means users are comfortable using their products and succor to less annoyance in trying to seamlessly integrate myriad technology. Every company leverage there own product, and it’s not new. Google extends to protect their core business in advertising by adopting social media in Google+, Office suite via Google apps, web browsing via Chrome, Google Product Search to compete with Amazon Prime, etc. So that means Google gains traction too by leveraging on their search engine.

          I call you stupid in sheer ignorance on your perception of monopoly because you just hate Microsoft. With abundance of players nowadays in tech world, monopoly has no room anymore. The right word there is Dominance (just to correct your ignorance).

          Let me cure your ignorance further. Microsoft other products are not low quality crap. They have become locus of innovation in the enterprise world and most of them landed in Fortune 500 companies.

          Let me compile list of top-tier products to supplement your only knowledge of Windows and Office:
          – Microsoft Dynamics
          – Sharepoint
          – Visual Studio and .NET
          – Lync and Skype
          – SQL Server
          – Microsoft Server Editions
          – Azure and the cloud, including Office 365 and SkyDrive
          – Microsoft Exchange
          – XBox and Kinect
          – Business intelligence
          – Windows 8 and mobile
          – Bing

          See, even I’m a student, my ignorance is not as bad as you.

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            Wow. I was trying to be somewhat respectful but you are either ignorant or mind bogglingly stupid. Fortune 500 companies use Microsoft products because of the tired old rhetoric of “no one gets fired for buying [market share leader]” — originally that meant IBM, now it’s Microsoft.

            I’m aware of all of the products on your little list. Most of them are complete garbage. The ones that don’t *completely* suck were developed outside of Microsoft and acquired later (for example, SQL Server is a fork of Sybase, but even that was forked so long ago that they’ve added way too much crap into it. Similarly, the Skype system was developed outside of Microsoft as a platform-independent technology, but I’m sure they’ll screw it up over time).

            The fact that you offer Sharepoint and Exchange as examples of “top tier” products is laughable. Sharepoint does nothing useful, and Exchange blows itself up if you breathe on it. I’ve never seen a server product so mind-bogglingly unreliable, unnecessarily complex, and designed with so many byzantine interfaces and protocols.

            You mentioned that you are a student, so perhaps your naive position comes from a lack of real world experience combined with whatever student discount you are receiving on Microsoft products. Trust me on this one; I have nearly three decades of experience managing computer
            systems and am currently responsible for overseeing a facility that
            operates thousands of servers. The vast majority of problems are
            directly caused by Microsoft products and their shoddy engineering,
            deliberately cryptic documentation, and oppressive licensing practices.

          • Anonymous

            Whoa, I don’t give a shit about the crap you say about trusting you and your 3 decades of experience. Most professionals I know doesn’t go off-board like you hating on one tech company, unless you work for a competitor. They embrace several technology, learn and experience from it, know the problem, and find joy in troubleshooting. Your case is like you have 3rd-party software with incompatibility issue sitting on top of you server operating system and you blame your OS for that? Sucks right? Your not good in your job then after decades of experience. Still live in a bubble and complain. Get over it and upgrade your system and knowledge.

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            All you’re doing is mindless bashing. With your myopic and bigoted mindset it will be difficult for you to find a decent job when you complete school. I’ve spent decades in this industry and I can tell you that your poor attitude will not serve you well.

            My suggestion to you at this time would be to turn off the computer and die in a car fire. Please stop consuming oxygen and other resources that were intended to be used by those of us who are actually worthy of living on this planet.

            Your disqus profile doesn’t have a photo attached but I’m assuming you are ugly as well.

          • Anonymous

            Hehe, who’s bashing here in the first place? It’s just your line of reasoning has no substance, merits no purpose. The Tasmanian devil in your avatar properly describes you. You’re full of assumption, from Skype buyout to my image behind disqus. I assure you I’m pretty handsomer than you.   

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            Thank you for agreeing that you are completely wrong. I knew you’d come around.

          • Anonymous

            Same here for coming to terms. Your parting remark is good enough return-address stamped envelope. Have a good day. Cheer. :)

          • Anonymous

            Same here for coming to terms. Your parting remark is good enough return-address stamped envelope. Have a good day. Cheer. :)

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            Have a bad day, and be sure to tell everyone you know about how I totally proved you wrong in everything you said.

          • Anonymous

            Ha. You made me laugh. You never give up.

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            Of course. Your complete disregard for common sense is entertaining.

          • Anonymous

            Your lack of perspective is even more entertaining.

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            Hah. As a person with zero real world experience and demonstrably poor insight you have no justification for criticizing anyone else’s perspective.

          • Anonymous

            If you’re my professor, i’ll kick you out of the classroom for being outdated and gay. You don’t deserve to be my mentor. Ya, you really look gay.

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            My, such ignorance and bigotry. Are all Microsoft fanbois as homophobic as you? Or are you just stupid? Yes, you’re just stupid.

          • Anonymous

            The Principles of Applied Stupidity are essential tools, but for you is plain stupidity. I’m not a fanboy. But I was taught to embrace various technologies, may it be proprietary or opensource. And I don’t hate one like you. It’s just the way the world revolves. So, stop acting gay.

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            You’ve already proven that you are a fanboy, you’ve already proven that you are stupid, and you’ve also proven that you are a hateful bigot. There is no getting around any of that. You’ve demonstrated beyond all doubt that the only reasonable course of action is for you to die in a car fire, so please do so immediately.

          • Anonymous

            You’re the only person I hate with your stupid views of reality. And I really hate gay’s influence as if I really want to skin them alive. I’ve been an avid fan of Linux, so don’t gayfully call me a fanboi.

          • IGnatius T Foobar

            I myself am not gay, but I do find your perogatives insulting anyway. Of course, I should expect nothing less from a Microsoft fanboi. Feel free to kill yourself immediately; you will be doing the world a favor.

    • Dkramaus

      So you either consider the incredible success of Xbox and Xbox Live to be a failure and a “nothing”, or you’re a total buffoon.  Which is it?

      • SoftwareWorld

        XBox and the Desktop are both BOXES which are all about concentrating power and resources at the user end. this is Microsoft’s strength.

        Mobile devices and cloud are opposite of that.

      • Jimbob

        The Xbox team have consistently posted massive losses, losses bug enough to kill most companies, some “success”

        • Tony Anderson

           Their entertainment division (Xbox) makes profit now.

          The Xbox was just way to get into TV sets and with Xbox live create a full circle back to the internet.

          MS definitely needs to clean up their business model and culture a bit though. Focus on the bread and butter (windows and software), and stop worrying so much about things like IE and Bing.

  • SoftwareWorld

    Just watching Bill Gates HAND on the first picture gives you an example of why Microsoft sometimes just doesn’t know what it’s doing. That picture really is hilarious if you guys know what I mean.

    • Faker

       What do you mean?

      • SoftwareWorld

         he seems to be knocking on her boob.

  • HowieH

    My Garmin Nuvi 680 was powered by SPOT and did a great job of alerting me to traffic and rerouting me. I gladly subscribed until they discontinued the SPOT service. It also provided gas prices at area stations (very useful), weather and forecasts (marginally useful), and movie listings and showtimes (useless). I very much enjoyed having it as a dedicated device and wish I still had the data feeds. Oh well.

  • Guest

    Umm really? Microsoft’s attitude to risk. Never heard such a fantastic oxymoron in a single sentence before. Their attitude to risk is the same as  my grandma…and it shows. Cant remember the last product they came out with which was a resounding risk taker..let’s seeeee…windows live? zune? bing? this watch? Vista? yah realll innovative.

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