Suppliers say Microsoft planning a smartwatch: It’s almost past time

Microsoft(s MSFT) is considering a smartwatch device, reportedly having asked parts suppliers to provide suitable hardware earlier in the year. According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft hasn’t yet committed to the project, which will use a small touchscreen for the watch face. Time may be against the company if it waits too long.

Image 4 for post Channel 9 shows the SPOT watch( 2004-09-22 20:35:11) As someone who bought a Microsoft smartwatch in 2004 — did anyone else purchase a SPOT Watch? — I’m confident the company has the know-how to build a wearable gadget. My SPOT Watch offered news, weather, calendar notifications and other useful data on my wrist.

The idea was sound, but Microsoft made a fatal mistake: It used FM radio signals for the watch’s connectivity, right as mobile broadband technology was getting off the ground. As a result, the limited, one-way network technology for SPOT Watches was quickly outdated.

That issue was one of market timing and I can’t help but wonder as to the timing of this report. From the Zune music player to the new Surface RT hardware and now a potential smartwatch, it seems like Microsoft is chasing form factors instead of leading innovation.

It’s been clear, for example, that the PC industry has been undergoing a radical shift in both sales and demand for the past few years. Why? There are many reasons — economic and hardware longevity, for example — but a new market for consumer tablets in early 2010 is a key one. Yet, Microsoft couldn’t react quickly enough: Surface RT, with its touch-friendly interface, didn’t hit the market until late 2012.

The wearable gadget market started gaining attention last year — see the Pebble, MetaWatch and others — so if Microsoft wants to be a serious contender here, it needs to pick up the pace. It’s not too late yet; the market for wearable gadgets is just getting started. The last thing Microsoft needs right now, however, is for an Apple iWatch(s aapl) or Google Now(s goog) timepiece to hit the market sooner rather than later.