Now that Samsung’s officially debuted its Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, there’s no denying that the wearables — that is small computing devices that stay out-of-the-way and are naturally accessible — are due for an explosion. Unfortunately Microsoft is on the wrong end of the flames.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Microsoft found itself shut out of the smartphone market. After spending years as the undisputed king of smartphone operating systems, Microsoft was forced to completely gut its smartphone efforts in the wake of Apple’s new approach with the iPhone. In one swoop, suddenly the company found itself stuck with the legacy of an operating system that wasn’t feasible and consumers who’d grown accustomed to a new way of doing things. The time it took the company to transition to Windows Phone hurt it, badly, and Windows Phone is just now managing to recover.
Microsoft found itself in the same situation when Apple revitalized the tablet market with the iPad. Never mind that Microsoft had tried to make inroads together with partners in the space for years, or that it had spent years trying to perfect its Windows operating system in the tablet market. Overnight, bulky battery-draining tablet PCs were replaced in perspective users minds with the ease of using iOS and the relatively gorgeous body of Apple’s iPad. Of course, Microsoft would return to the market with its own branded Surface RT and Surface Pro devices — to say nothing of the devices running Windows RT – but by then the company had already fell behind.
The same thing is happening to the company in wearable computing. After introducing its Spot Smartwatches in the early 2000s, apparently Microsoft concluded that the category just wasn’t poised for growth. After releasing just a few versions of the Spot smartwatch in 2004, the company quietly killed the product and left the market wide open. Of course, with rumors of Apple’s iWatch growing and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear device heading to retail stores this fall, the company finds itself in the same predicament again.
Simply put, Microsoft’s hardware teams seem poised to endlessly repeat the same mistakes over and over, as if it’s they are somehow trapped inside a live-action movie that forces them to keep reliving the same days over and over. Sure, it’s with a different market, and yes the market around smartwatches has changed. But it’s still happening.
What hasn’t changed is the way technology develops. If Microsoft’s many adventures in creating end solutions for users teaches us anything about the nature of technology, it’s that you can’t capture a market by entering it. First you have to capture the imagination.
All this isn’t to say that wearable computing is the next big device category. Far from it actually. This fall, users could decide that Samsung’s Galaxy Gear device is nothing more than an overly expensive accessory with colorful color options. But at the end of the day, at least Samsung’s timing isn’t nearly a decade off.