Microsoft To Launch Smart Watch Service

The service, MSN Direct, will cost $9.95 a month with the first month free or a year's service for $59. It will be available in more than 100 North American cities this fall.

It's part of Microsoft's Smart Personal Object Technology initiative, announced last year, in which devices can receive and display information broadcast over a portion of the FM radio spectrum.

Microsoft is working on the technology while watchmakers Fossil and Suunto are developing the smart wristwatches, with many priced at $150 to $300, said Chris Schneider, SPOT program manager. Users customize the information they want sent to their watches by going to a Web site.

Microsoft has cut deals with broadcast companies including Clear Channel Communications, Rogers Communications, Entercom Communications and others to lease a slice of FM radio spectrum to transmit the data.

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The company won't disclose how much it is spending on leasing radio spectrum or offering the service.

It's still unclear how many people will want to buy the watch or would prefer it to a Web-enabled wireless phone or personal digital assistant.

The smart wristwatch will appeal to those who aren't as technologically savvy and would prefer to receive information over a device that they're already comfortable with, said Alex Slawsby, analyst in mobile devices for IDC. He said even cell phones, which seem fairly straightforward, can be frustrating to less technologically sophisticated users of Web browsing, calendar or instant-messaging services.

Still, the watch has its drawbacks.

Because the watch only receives data and can't send it, users won't be able to shoot back instant messages, for example. In addition, the service draws down the battery, meaning users will need to recharge the batteries once every few days, Slawsby said.