by James A. Martin

Does the world need a Windows smartwatch?

Apr 26, 2017
Consumer ElectronicsMobile AppsWearables

The answer is, 'yes,' if you like the idea of a commercial-grade wearable for retail, hospitality, healthcare and manufacturing. But the track record of squeezing Windows into a small device isn't good.

On Monday, Microsoft announced that a Windows-based smartwatch is on the horizon.

My initial reaction was: Seriously?

After all, efforts to squeeze Windows into a small device in the past have failed. True, some products, such as Nokia smartphones based on the Windows Mobile OS, have received good reviews. But no one bought them. Windows Phones had a 0.3 percent market share in Q4 2016, according to Gartner.

Microsoft even made a smartwatch more than a decade ago. In 2004, MSN Watch, which enabled you to check email, weather and news, was a pet project of Bill Gates. Today, it’s among several products on a list of Microsoft products “that failed or were abandoned.”

I should note that Microsoft isn’t making the upcoming Windows smartwatch. Trekstor is.

At any rate, is a Windows smartwatch a crazy idea — something akin to, oh, I don’t know, an Uber flying car? (Would you want to get into a flying car devised by a company with a crash-and-burn CEO?)

Here’s an argument for — and an argument against — a Windows smartwatch.

Why a Windows smartwatch might work

Instead of trying to compete with Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatches, the smartwatch will be based on the Windows 10 IoT Core OS, a version of Windows built for the Internet of Things.

The watch will serve as a “commercial-grade wearable” for industrial use, Microsoft said. The device will be “secure and manageable like any other Windows device” and will use Microsoft Azure Cloud services.

Microsoft said the watch could replace handheld devices in a variety of business use cases, such as retail inventory management; enabling or augmenting guest services in the hospitality industry; making healthcare workers more efficient; and boosting productivity in manufacturing, asset management, and fleet management.

Makes sense to me. For one reason, Windows 10 IoT Core integrates Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant. And Cortana, according to recent research from Stone Temple Consulting, has a knowledge depth rivaled only by Google Assistant.

cortana-ios-quick-actions Blair Hanley Frank

A photo shows Cortana for iOS’s new Quick Actions.

So, at least in theory, you could make a lot of valuable information available to workers, without them having to slow down to search for and review that information on a mobile device screen.

But then again…

Why a Windows smartwatch might bomb

Users love their mobile devices, and they love to bring them to work. Hence, the BYOD trend that essentially started with the iPhone.

Given the nonexistent Windows Mobile market share, most of the potential Windows smartwatch users are already using iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Some may already have an Apple Watch or Android Gear watch. Thus, a Windows smartwatch might add complexity and confusion to their work lives.

Also, Apple’s Mobility Partner Program seeks to make iOS and, by extension, Apple Watch more enterprise-friendly and relevant with help from partners such as IBM, Cisco, and SAP. Admittedly, Apple has been mostly quiet and not especially proactive about the program. But that’s showing signs of changing for the better. And an Apple Watch equipped with customized industrial app extensions seems like a potentially better fit than a Windows smartwatch.

We’ll have to wait and see

When will the TrekStor wearable become a reality? For now, Microsoft said more information will be available “in the coming months.”