November 10, 2003 11:58 AM PST

Clock ticks for Web on a wristwatch

Those who want to receive information from the Internet through a wristwatch or fridge magnet may have to wait a little longer.

Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT), which the company unveiled last year right before the Comdex trade show, is still in testing, according to a company representative, who declined to give an estimated release date. Microsoft earlier said the technology would be launched in the fall.

SPOT seeks to remove any headaches or impediments involved in getting online. With SPOT, Internet data can be broadcast over a nationwide FM radio network to wristwatches, personal digital assistants, refrigerators and other devices. Conceivably, a SPOT-enabled alarm clock could publish the latest headlines when it wakes up its owner.

The data feed will adjust for travel, so that a traveler who flies from Seattle to San Jose, Calif., will start getting California weather reports when he or she gets off the plane, Rich Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research said.

Watchmakers Fossil and Suunto have said they will release SPOT devices, while Microsoft will market a service, called MSN Direct, that will provide the data feed for a $9.95 monthly fee. Microsoft is testing the project in eight metropolitan areas in North America, but the plan is to have the network blanket 100 cities on the continent.

National Semiconductor is making the chipsets for the project.

Although apparently delayed, the SPOT program fits into the tradition of the "next big thing" taking some time to gather momentum. Microsoft's Tablet PC was previewed at Comdex 2001 and then launched just before the convention in 2002. Although sales of the operating system have generally met analysts' forecasts, expectations for it started low, and some computer makers groused about the high price of the software.


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