Microsoft (MSFT -0.59%) plans to enter the suddenly crowded smart watch field, perhaps within the next few weeks, according to a report from Forbes, which cites unnamed "sources close to the project."
The planned watch would track the user's heart rate, work across multiple platforms, and have a battery that lasts for more than two days of normal use, the financial news site reported. It would compete with Apple's (AAPL -2.12%) upcoming watch as well as models from Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) and others.
The move would be an aggressive attempt to become an early moving category leader in the wearables market, which some predict will explode in the next few years. It's exactly the opposite of the too little, too late strategy that has Microsoft playing catch-up in phones and tablets. It's also a terrible idea that the company should send to the scrap pile with Bob, Zune, the paper clip from Word, and the Surface Mini.
There is no pent-up demand for a Windows watch
Apple fans practically demanded it release a watch. The company essentially created the smartphone and tablet market by offering high-priced, but still semi-affordable devices packed with useful features in a good-looking package. The iPad took the iPhone and blew it up to tablet size. The Apple Watch will do the same on a smaller scale with some added health features and the convenience of fitting on a wrist.
Since Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, Apple's new products have been clearly influenced by public demand. People wanted a smaller iPad so the company delivered the iPad Mini. They wanted a bigger phone and a phablet, so Apple released the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. With its watch, the company is simply delivering what its user base is clamoring for, which more or less guarantees a hit. Apple has cachet and it's in a unique place where the public trusts its products so much it's demanding more of them.
Microsoft is not in the same place. It has struggled to sell the excellent Surface because nobody was particularly clamoring for the company's take on a tablet. Even if it delivers an excellent watch, and it probably will, there is not likely to be much demand for it.
The company's core customers are business users
While Apple's iPhone and iPad offer some useful business features they are primarily about fun. It's logical to think that people will use an Apple Watch to integrate with iTunes or listen to a podcast. It's harder to picture the watch-based benefits of being able to open an Excel spreadsheet or edit a PowerPoint document.
It may not be fair, or even fully true anymore. but the perception has always been that Microsoft does not do fun well. While the success of Xbox should have changed that, the game console seems like an exception. Zune was actually a fine music player, but nobody wanted to entrust their entertainment to a company that made its money by being square. Apple will always be the hip kid in the room while Microsoft is the scolding parent. It will take more than a few clever commercials featuring rhythmic Surface covers snapping closed to change that.
Working across multiple platforms is not that important
It's clever for Microsoft to make its watch play well with Apple and even Google (GOOG -0.84%) (GOOGL -0.90%) Android devices but that won't be a big draw for customers. Unless Microsoft charges well less than Apple does for its watch, which seems unlikely given its Surface and Xbox pricing strategies, there is no reason for someone with an iPad/iPhone to want Microsoft's watch.
A Windows-based watch may integrate nicely with competitors' products, but it won't work as well as staying all within one family. People mix iPads and iPhones with PCs because Windows-based machines still dominate the work world. There is no logical reason for them to mix a non-work Microsoft device for use with their Apple iOS and Android tech.
Don't believe the hype
The biggest reason to enter the smart watch business is because of predictions like this one from TechSci Research: "The global market for smart wearables is forecast to reach 275 million units, in volume terms, by 2019."
That's a huge number, which makes it hard for Microsoft to stay away for fear of missing out as it has done in tablets and smartphones. The problem is that already not being a major player in tablets and phones makes it nearly impossible to succeed in smart watches. Instead of being seduced by the potential of the market, Microsoft should focus on where it can integrate its products into other companies' hardware.
Office for iPad is a huge hit and as much as I made fun of using Office products on a phone, Microsoft should concentrate on adding value. Outlook, OneNote, and even the rest of Office have uses on a watch and Microsoft could easily market a suite of wearable-friendly software to its business user base. That makes a lot more sense than chasing an audience that's not likely to want it.