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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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April 24, 2008 11:48 AM

Microsoft kills MSN Spot watches, repurposing data network

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's a sad day for geek fashion.

Last night a Microsoft manager disclosed the demise of Spot watches, which displayed information such as stock quotes and weather reports beamed over the old pager network.

Spot was championed by Bill Gates, who introduced them at CES in 2003, but it was always about more than just watches. The idea was to develop a system for delivering small bits of information wirelessly to all sorts of devices, so you could get useful information at a glance.

In some ways it was the forerunner of the Chumby, the widget display device I wrote about a few weeks ago, but instead of delivering rich Web content like the Chumby (and iPhone ...) the Sport network could deliver lightweight, black and white information to feed lowe- powered devices with long battery life -- all the way down to refrigerator magnets displaying baseball scores, and keyfobs with traffic reports, for instance.

That information delivery service is alive and well, operating as MSN Direct. One of its new niches is powering automotive GPS units, like the one demonstrated in this video I took at CES in January.

MSN Direct Program Manager Jon Canan delivered the news about the watches with a comment posted last night at SpotStop.com, an enthusiast Web site, which in turn was flagged by Engadget. From Canan's post:

While we continue to move forward with MSN Direct and seeking out new opportunities for devices that would benefit from the MSN Direct service, we, along with our watch partners, do not have immediate plans to create a new version of the Smart Watch, as we are focused on other areas of our business. We will maintain support of our watch customers and continue to deliver information to the watches, but we do not plan to increase our investment in the watch business going forward.

These GPS units are all over the place, but I've only seen SPOT watches on the wrists of Microsoft bosses.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.