Microsoft’s Office software debuted on the iPad recently, and tech reviewers praised it for offering an experience that quite a few craved for years. Some thought the $99 annual subscription was somewhat high for the service, but were finally excited that Microsoft had finally brought its PC software to what many consider to be the standard in the consumer tablet experience – the iPad.
The Microsoft Office for the iPad move didn’t happen under former CEO Steve Ballmer, who is now retired and considering the acquisition of NBA basketball team the Los Angeles Clippers. Instead, this is the work of Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, who introduced Office for iPad just 52 days after his appointment as Microsoft’s new CEO. Bringing Office 365 to the iPad is right in step with a man who believes strongly in the power of mobile and cloud computing. Office 365, Nadella said is “about giving Office users the same experience on any device they want to use. Our commitment going forward is to make sure we drive Office 365 everywhere. That means the web, tablets, all phones and PCs.”
Nadella may indeed have a winner in Office 365, but he believes in mobile just as much – and this is where Microsoft’s smartwatch announcement just makes sense.
We’ve heard rumors in months past that suggested Microsoft would bring a smartwatch to market to compete with Apple’s rumored iWatch (which should emerge later this Fall), Samsung’s Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches (running Tizen OS), and Google’s Android Wear wearables platform that should see smartwatches such as the Moto 360, the LG G Watch, and possibly a smartwatch from even Samsung and HTC later this year. So far, we’ve seen Microsoft investing $150-$200 million in wearable patents related to a Google Glass competitor and other wrist wearables from Osterhout Design Group this past March. In 2012, a Microsoft wearable patent surfaced that showed a wearable that would operate not only a sensor setup on the wrist, but also the chest, head, and even thighs and legs. The wearable showed the sensors not only recording body health data, but also relaying that same data to your wireless devices – be it a smartphone, laptop, or even tablet.
Now, the Microsoft smartwatch has been confirmed by sources close to Microsoft. These sources say that Microsoft’s smartwatch will look similar to Samsung’s Gear Fit, while attempting to place the display and notifications more inside the wrist than outside (as Samsung has done). Samsung’s Gear Fit received an update sometime ago that allowed notifications on the wrist to be viewable in both portrait and landscape modes, and Microsoft’s smartwatch will utilize the inside of the wearer’s wrist for privacy (some notifications, like intimate text messages, shouldn’t be seen by all). The display will be half the size of a stick of gum, one source says.
Alongside of the inside-wrist viewing experience, the Microsoft smartwatch will come with an all-day heart rate monitor that will track a person’s heart rate over the course of an entire day, unlike Samsung’s Gear Fit that requires an individual to turn on the heart rate monitor. With an all-day heart rate monitor, Microsoft sees the need to ensure formidable battery life – so the smartwatch will last for two days on a single charge, similar to Samsung’s first-generation digital smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches have been tested and reports say that these smartwatches provide anywhere from 3-4 days of battery life due to the battery-saving power of Samsung’s Tizen project (as opposed to Android). The top smartwatch in battery life at the moment is Pebble’s new Pebble Steel, which gives an astonishing 5-7 days of battery life.
One final piece of excellent news: the Microsoft smartwatch will operate on any platform, whether it be Windows, Android, or iOS.
Microsoft is to be applauded for its move in the mobile wearable space. Samsung’s Gear smartwatches only work for Samsung customers (not Android in general), and Apple’s rumored iWatch will arrive for only iOS users later this year. Both manufacturers intend to market smartwatches for only their loyal customers, but Microsoft could take the Pebble experience head-on if its wearable works for all three platforms. The company could find itself attracting new business if its smartwatch can steer Android and iOS customers away from the Moto 360 smartwatch (due to arrive this summer).
Microsoft’s contribution in this area will be to dethrone the Pebble experience, seeing that many Windows and iOS users already use Pebble for their smartwatch on a daily basis. Pebble’s Steel smartwatch looks gorgeous but provides an E-ink display, a feature that many associate with Amazon’s Kindle Keyboard experience. With smartphones becoming more sophisticated each year, consumers have come to expect their smartwatch to look as appealing, if not more. A digital display in a tri-platform Microsoft smartwatch will push Microsoft ahead of its competitors. Now, if Microsoft can release its smartwatch at a competitive price against the Pebble (say, $199 or $149 brand new), the Pebble team will have something major to worry about.