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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 15, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Reports: Microsoft prepping Windows 8 Surface watches

A 2003 Fossil model of a Microsoft  “smart” watch.

A 2003 Fossil model of a Microsoft “smart” watch.

Microsoft is jumping back on the wearable computing bandwagon, according to reports saying that the Redmond company has developed a Windows 8 Surface watch with a 1.5-inch display and nearly translucent metal case.

Unlike the raft of new and upcoming watches that connect to smartphones via Bluetooth, Microsoft’s Surface watch will also connect directly to 4G LTE wireless networks and have 6 gigabytes of internal storage, according to a report by tech blog AmongTech.

Earlier The Wall Street Journal broke the news of Microsoft’s watch program and The Verge reported today that the project has moved from the Xbox to Surface groups, though they’re actually now in the same organization.

The consensus of the reports is that Microsoft is ordering 1.5-inch touchscreen displays for the watches, which will have colorful, interchangeable bands — along the lines of the Surface covers — and the devices could be revealed in 2014.

It’s unclear that there is broad demand for cellphone-like watches or wearable computers that Google, Apple and others are developing. But Microsoft apparently doesn’t want to be seen as missing the next “big thing” and is applying its newfound expertise in computer design and manufacturing to the category, if the reports are correct.

As in tablets and smartphones, Microsoft was actually far ahead of the pack in watches — too far, before the hardware, market and infrastructure was ready.

Microsoft introduced “smart” watches that displayed information fed by wireless networks back at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show.  The “smart personal object technology,” or SPOT, watches  were discontinued in 2008.

Perhaps Microsoft plans to return to CES in January with the 4G Spot Surface watch.

Bill Gates, the champion of Microsoft’s SPOT work, didn’t offer any clues in his presentation today at Microsoft’s Faculty Summit in Redmond.

Asked about the potential of wearable computing devices in education, Gates said: “It will help you cheat, I guess.”

“I think of wearable technology as a very cool thing, but I don’t really couple it that much with education,” he said.

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