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Microsoft joins smartwatch race with LTE model

Windows giant reported to be developing wearable device with its own mobile broadband as Apple hires for 'iWatch'


Published: 16 July, 2013

READ MORE: Microsoft | LTE

Unlikely as it seems, the smartwatch looks set to attract intense attention from vendors and bloggers during the rest of this year, with Apple, Microsoft and Samsung all working on projects.

Whether this is a sign of device makers' desperation to find a new low cost category as the smartphone segment descends into price wars, or something that will genuinely catch consumers' imagination, remains to be seen, though previous attempts at computer/watches have scarcely merited a footnote in gadget history (the Timex Datalink, early Microsoft attempts, more recent offerings from LG and Samsung). However, the same could be said for early tablets ...

While most upcoming smart watches appear to be evolutions of wrist-attached monitoring gadgets like Nike+ SportWatch - accessories for smartphones, not communications devices in their own right - Microsoft is reportedly working on a product with its own embedded LTE connection.

According to sources who spoke to The Verge, the Surface team is currently prototyping gadgets which could debut next year. They could apparently feature 6Gbytes of storage and LTE, and be made of 'translucent aluminium' which is harder than glass.

These gadgets will clearly be usable independently of the handset, unlike the existing trailblazer, the Pebble, a Kickstarter-funded project which has generated 275,000 unit sales and 1m app downloads since launch in the spring. Tethering the watch to a phone reduces the cost - the Pebble is $150 - and can provide a convenient way to check texts and messages, or to run body-related apps such as fitness monitors. And it removes the need for a mobile broadband contract - and some models, like the MotoACTV fitness tracker from Motorola, have Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth.

The most-hyped of this breed of devices, of course, is the expected Apple 'iWatch' and the Financial Times reports that the company is hiring new teams to develop the product - which would imply it will not be ready until next year. It seems that the firm has encountered engineering problems with creating a wearable device, and is looking to outside expertise to move into a wholly new product area for Apple.

The FT report says the iPhone maker has started hiring "aggressively" for the project in recent weeks, having experienced some "hard engineering problems that they've not been able to solve". The company may well also be looking around for specialist start-ups to acquire in this area.

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