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Old 02-09-2004, 04:00 PM
David McNamee
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 534
Default MSN Direct Watch Hits the SPOT

I stopped wearing watches while I was a college senior. I had developed something of a nervous habit of repeatedly looking at my wrist to check the time. Like Alice�s white rabbit, I constantly felt as though I were late for something very important. It took me about six months to recover from the confused feeling of not knowing the current time down to the millisecond. I began to go about my days with a more relaxed attitude and I began to feel better. I swore that I would never wear another watch again.

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That was 1997. For seven years, no watch has been strapped to my wrist.

Enter SPOT
A little over a year-and-a-half ago, I began to read about Microsoft�s plan to bring connectivity and data to everyday appliances that weren�t thought of as data consumers. Microsoft Research had been demonstrating concepts of these devices known as Smart Personal Objects, or SPOT. The refrigerator magnet that showed updated sports scores was pretty neat. The connected alarm clock they showed was ingenious. It was going to show the time, the current weather conditions, traffic alerts, and your agenda � so that you could decide if it was safe to hit the snooze button. I knew that once these devices eventually came to market, it would be added to my increasingly digital lifestyle. I thought it would be wonderful to wake up in the morning and have just enough information staring me in the face to help orient me toward my day. Then the news came. The first SPOT-enabled devices to market would be � wristwatches! I decided right there to hate the SPOT-enabled wristwatch and wait for other devices to come along that would better fit my lifestyle choices.

Then, my curiosity got the better of me. I broke down and bought a SPOT watch.

It�s Not the Size of the Watch That Matters�
I purchased the Abacus Wrist.NET watch from Fossil at a local CompUSA. They also carried the more expensive N3 from Suunto. I decided on the lower-end model since I was determined to hate it anyway. The Abacus has a black, plastic wrist band that fit me pretty well straight out of the box. The band looks to be adjustable by removing a pin from one of the clasps. I haven�t tried this, so please read the manual before you make any adjustments. The watch itself is pretty big. It is smaller than many of the sports watches you�ll see, but it is still relatively large. The size alone makes this a niche product for male geeks. There isn�t a lady with an ounce of fashion sense in her that would strap this beast onto her wrist. Fortunately for me, I am both male and geek, so I put on the watch and continued.

The digital watch face can be chosen from a dozen different available faces. I settled on split face that gave me the current time in my time zone and in another time zone. I chose my second time zone as Pacific US since I frequently have to think in Redmond time when working with Microsoft. There�s also some extra goodness with the watch face that you don�t hear much about in the press reviews. The Abacus has a built in stop watch with basic functionality. I put it through a field test a couple of weekends ago when I used it to keep track of my pace during a 5k race. There is an alarm, of course. You can actually set two different alarms. There is also a nifty countdown timer. I�ve used this in place of my egg-timer in the kitchen a couple of times. The watch can also be customized to display 12 or 24 hours time, different date formats, and measurements in US or metric units.

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That�s Great, But What About the Data?
The switchable watch faces and other features are nice, but I was ready to turn this into an information appliance. Maybe that would help me forget that I was dealing with a watch. I signed up for the MSN Direct service that powers the data being sent to the watch. MSN Direct works by broadcasting data over FM radio subcarrier frequencies. There is a very strong FM receiver built into the watch that picks up the unregulated frequencies and delivers the data to your watch. Once the watch starts receiving data, it automatically adjusts to the correct time and time zone. There is a very wide assortment of data services to choose from once you start receiving data. You can get news headlines from the AP, Reuters or MSNBC in local, national or international flavors. Science and technology news is also available from those providers as well as Stock and weather information can be received, and these bear closer examination. For stock data, you are shown the current trading price. You are also shown a five-day chart with high/low values and volume data. The weather information is even better. You are presented with the current temperature, the forecasted high/low for the day, a three-day forecast, sunrise and sunset times, the wind chill, barometric pressure, humidity and the UV index. You may also choose up to 10 additional cities to receive their high/low information. I currently get weather for Orlando, Seattle, Calgary, Quebec, and London. Not only do you receive this plethora of data, but the watch also picks up your current location and displays the correct local weather. When I drive from Tampa to Orlando and back, the watch updates itself to give me correct information!

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You can also receive personal information on your watch. The MSN Direct service supports synchronizing with your Outlook calendar. You install an add-in for Outlook that lets you push updated calendar information up to MSN Direct. That data is then forwarded to your watch. The watch notifies you at your set reminder time. MSN Messenger 6.1 has been updated to support MSN Direct. People on your buddy list can send messages directly to your watch. This has come in handy more than once in the last few weeks. Your calendar data and personal messages aren�t just floating out in the open for all to see, though. Personal data is encrypted before being broadcast. Every watch has a unique identifying number on it and that number is used to tag and encrypt data being transmitted. Your watch reads data that has its tag, decrypts it and displays it on the watch.

So What? My Smartphone Can Do That � Sort Of�
A question that I�ve been frequently fielding is why I would want a SPOT-enabled watch with MSN Direct service and a Smartphone? There are SMS-based services that provide headlines, stock quotes, and weather information. Why is getting that data on the watch any better? I find that it is better for two key reasons: higher data quality and lower intrusiveness. The information I receive through MSN Direct is much richer than SMS messages relaying the same basic data. The weather forecasts give me pictures that clearly and quickly show me if rain is expected. The stock trends can be shown graphically. You can�t get that kind of meaningful presentation from plain text in an SMS message. The information is also less intrusive to receive than an SMS message. When I get an SMS message, I have to grab my phone, scroll to the inbox, and open the message before reading it. Most messages to my watch can be taken in completely with a single glance. Last week I got an instant message on my watch from Mike, our new contributing editor, during a conversation with a student. When I glanced at my watch to read Mike�s message, the person I was speaking to didn�t know that anything interesting had just happened. I couldn�t have done that with an SMS message. The watch is a wonderful complement to my Smartphone.

Don�t Leave Home Without It
SPOT-enabled watches aren�t yet perfect, but they have raised the bar for version 1 releases. The physical attributes need work � smaller, more varied designs need to come out for mass appeal. Also, some of the news headlines need work. They are sometimes chopped off at awkward points in the sentence. Overall though, I am very pleased with this Abacus watch. Despite my best efforts, I can�t bring myself to hate it. In fact, it and my Smartphone are always with me when I leave home. Having certain information at the ready has had its advantages. Looks like I�m back to wearing a watch!
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