Until Microsoft's Smart Watch, I'd never seen a product start digging its own grave at its unveiling.
It happened at the Consumer Electronics Show a year ago. As a presenter modeled a chunky prototype (bravely declaring that it wasn't "some geeky tech watch"), a spokesman for Citizen talked up all the great features of these data-enabled gadgets.
But this person's own choice of timepiece exhibited different priorities: The elegantly slim, stylish watch he wore featured little more than hour and minute hands.
It's now a year later, I've just spent three weeks wearing a Smart Watch -- Suunto's $300 n3 -- and I can't wait to put my old watch back on, which only looks good and tells time.
The n3, like four other, cheaper Smart Watch models, does so much more. Using an internal FM receiver, it pulls down headlines, stock quotes, my schedule, instant messages and more, then displays all this data on a sharp, 1 1/4-inch diameter LCD.
And I couldn't stand it.
At almost 3/4 of an inch thick, the n3 looked like a carrying case for another watch; even my tank-like Soviet Army watch could have fit inside its corpulent contours.
This not-so-little beast kept getting snagged on the cuffs of dress shirts and a ski jacket -- it was often easier to grab my cell phone to look up the time.
Once people noticed this ingot of black plastic on my wrist, they usually asked the same questions: What is that thing? What does it do? And -- once I'd gone over a Smart Watch's care and feeding -- who would actually want that?
Using a Smart Watch begins with an online activation process (a Microsoft Passport log-in is required) that involves entering your billing info at Microsoft's MSN Direct site.
Yes, these watches come with subscription fees: $9.95 a month or $59.95 a year. That money buys a thin spread of personalized data: You can choose broad categories of news (The Post is one provider of business headlines), select individual stock tickers and specify weather forecasts.
Calendar info can be sent to your watch only if you use Microsoft Outlook and install a Microsoft plug-in. (Suunto's amateurish set-up routine made adding this software twice as hard as necessary.)
MSN Messenger users can send text notes to their watches, but I can't call these messages "instant"; they took about 10 minutes to show up on the watch in my tests.
Microsoft says it's developing other channels, but the only one so far, a sports service, won't be available for two or three months, a spokesman said.
The Smart Watch software does get one thing right: It makes it a breeze to browse through the MSN Direct data by pressing "channel," "previous" and "next" buttons (all unlabeled on my n3).
If an item comes up that interests you, pressing the "enter" button brings up more detail. It could be the body of the news blurb, or a five-day chart of a stock, or the remainder of the message that just arrived.
None of this incoming data can be responded to in any way, however. And MSN Direct provides laughably little depth -- especially in its absurdly condensed headlines.
The news feed shows little news judgment. On the night of the New Hampshire primary, my Smart Watch carried no stories about the voting; it did, however, inform me that a conservation plan had been released for the "rarest trout in America."
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