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Microsoft puts the Web on your wrist

The software giant on Thursday plans to show off watches that can receive and display information from the Internet beamed over a nationwide FM radio network.

Microsoft's plan to bring the Internet to your wristwatch will kick off this week when the company previews gadgets based on its Smart Personal Objects Technology.

The software giant, along with watchmakers Citizen Watch, Fossil and Finland's Suunto, on Thursday is expected to show off the new products. More details on pricing and service providers also are expected to be revealed. The companies will start to release the wristwatches in the fall, sources close to Microsoft said.

Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) products are household and personal items--such as refrigerators or portable stereos--that can receive and display information from the Internet beamed over a nationwide FM radio network. With SPOT, for example, your alarm clock could have informed you about Martha Stewart's legal problems after you pushed snooze.

Among other features, portable SPOT products can adjust automatically to geographic changes. Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research, at public appearances has talked about how his SPOT prototype wristwatch shifts from showing Seattle weather to information about his new locale when he gets off a plane. Because of this, cars are emerging as another possible vehicle for SPOT, sources close to the company have said.

SPOT products run a Microsoft operating system and the company's DirectBand radio technology developed with SCA Data Systems. National Semiconductor is providing the chipsets for SPOT products. The chipset includes a processor based on designs from ARM, a radio receiver and memory.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in January outlined his plans for SPOT at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. SPOT first came to light before the Comdex computer trade show last November.

SPOT watches The Redmond, Wash.-based software developer is working with Clear Channel Communications, Entercom Communications, Greater Media and Rogers Communications to build a SPOT network. Initially, the network will cover 100 of the largest population centers in North America and all 50 states, Microsoft said.

SPOT products and services likely will be marketed in a variety of ways. Microsoft executives, for instance, have said that MSN may offer subscription services. Over time, prices for the service, which will be fairly aggressive to start with, could become fairly inconsequential.

"The watches will be shrink-wrapped in 7-Eleven next to the Altoids, and people will get them for $20 with service," Brian Halla, CEO of National, said in January.