Tech Trailblazers – Microsoft SPOT

25 December 2018

Smart TVs, Smart Watches, Smartphones, and Smart Homes: This is the era of interconnected, complex devices that can do just about anything. The idea’s straight out of science fiction of the 20th Century, and we’re still working out the problems with larger-scale things like Smart Homes. Popularly termed the Internet of Things, you could hypothetically start the kettle, activate the heating and open the blinds from your own bed, with just your phone.

It’s certainly an attractive concept, and for people with physical disabilities, a possible lifesaver. But like any pie-in-the-sky concept developed from sci-fi, there’s been a number of earlier, somewhat less complex systems developed that were just too early to be useful. One such example is the Microsoft SPOT, or Smart Personal Objects Technology.

What Was Microsoft SPOT?Tech Trailblazers - Microsoft SPOT: The First Smart Watch?

Announced to the public in 2002 at the now-defunct COMDEX, Microsoft SPOT was an ambitious plan. The first product announced and released was the Smart Watch, which coined the term we use now to describe these devices. Other devices were planned, such as alarm clocks and even a coffee machine, all cooperating with each other and sharing information.

By comparison with today’s smart watches, Microsoft’s offering shows a team trying to grasp the essential concepts of the device we see today. Wireless communication wasn’t handled by Wi-Fi or a mobile network, but by FM radio transmissions, later termed DirectBand. The earliest models lacked a touchscreen, meaning you had to use tiny buttons on the side of the watch to operate it.

However, in other regards, it was far ahead of its time. Real-time weather, sports and business updates provided by a yearly subscription service, wireless charging via an inductive charger, and the planned interconnectivity that we unfortunately only saw a glimpse of, with the aforementioned coffee machine being the only other SPOT device being released.

The SPOT is a prime example of high ideas with low tech. Its monochrome screen and simplistic interface provided a looking glass into the future, which wouldn’t become commonplace until the major phone brands jumped on the idea in the mid-2010s. However, the SPOT wouldn’t see its concept vindicated, as production stopped in 2008 and its data transmission system MSN Online shutting down in 2012.

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