In early 2004, two of Microsoft's watch-making partners will release four new watch models based on Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT), a Microsoft representative told me today. Microsoft Research's Roger Gulrajani demonstrated final and near-final watches from Suunto and Fossil that offer a SPOT-specific version of the Windows .NET Framework, access to the MSN Direct subscriber service, and antennas capable of accessing the new MSN Direct DirectBand wireless network, which pumps information to customers' watches at regular intervals by using FM subcarriers in major cities around the United States. SPOT watches feature a 120 x 90 black-and-white LCD display and an ARM CPU that runs at 28MHz with 512KB of ROM and 384KB of RAM.
   "This is the next generation of what the watch should be," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said earlier this year. "You pick a channel--weather perhaps. \[The channel\] handles the time zone change and sends messages to the watch. It's been a while since watch technology has improved."
   The watches range in price from $129 to $299 and require a subscription to MSN Direct to get the devices' most impressive functionality; the service costs $9.99 a month or $59 a year, Gulrajani said. Without the service, the watches can display the date and time. But when you connect the watch to MSN Direct, you can configure a range of services, such as weather, traffic conditions, and sports scores, all of which are constantly updated. And with MSN Messenger 6.0 and later, your contacts can send text messages to your watch when you're away from the PC.
   Battery life is as good as Microsoft had hoped for; the Fossil watch gets 3 days of juice per charge, and the larger Suunto model garners about 5 days of power. Each watch features unique styling, a copper antenna, and a variety of configurable watch faces. Users who want to own more than one watch can configure the MSN Direct service to duplicate their settings to any number of devices. For more information about SPOT technology and SPOT watches, refer to my SPOT Preview on the SuperSite for Windows.