5 things we want from a Microsoft smartwatch
FORTUNE — In case you needed additional proof that wearable devices may be the next big thing, now comes word that Microsoft (MSFT) is also toying with designs for a smartwatch.
That the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is making this move shouldn’t come as a surprise. The smartwatch Pebble is already shipping, and Google will likely enter the market later this year with its augmented reality eyeglasses, Google Glass. And, if the rumors are accurate, even Apple may have a smartwatch on the way. For each company, there’s a lot to gain: Gartner Research estimates wearable devices will be a $10 billion industry by 2015.
Here’s our wishlist of features if a Microsoft smartwatch should become reality:
A svelte look, different sizes. We know: Great design should be obvious, but given that the Surface Pro tablet is bulkier than the 13-inch MacBook Air, it’s not a given for Microsoft. And of course, what some people wear reveals a bit about who they are. Just as Pebble is shipping watches with different colors and wristbands, Microsoft should do the same, exploring different-sized watch faces and wristbands of different styles and widths. Not doing so could alienate many would-be owners. To wit, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster wrote recently that a wearable computer could prove more popular with men than women if it’s produced on the chunkier side. “It is less likely women will embrace them given women’s watches tend to be smaller with a greater emphasis on fashion,” explained Munster.
Cross-platform syncing. When Microsoft, Google, and Apple release a consumer device, it usually only plays nice with the respective company’s hardware and software ecosystem. (Take the Nexus 7 tablet versus the iPad.) Is it asking too much of Microsoft to allow its smartwatch to sync with Android devices or iPhones? After all, Apple eventually opened up the iPod to Windows users. Given that Windows Phone’s market share accounted for just 2.6% of global smartphone shipments last year — a portion that’s expected to reach 11.4% come 2016 — Microsoft’s chances of building a huge user base would grow exponentially if it appealed to people with non-Microsoft devices.
Open-source development. Microsoft would do well to take a page from Pebble’s playbook. The startup is providing software developers with the tools to create new features and apps for its smartwatch: digital watch faces, better music controls, and exercise monitoring, among them. The more notable features the device has, the more compelling the experience.
Streamlined Windows Phone/Windows 8 experience. Say what you like about Windows Phone’s small market share, but there’s no escaping the fact that its unique, color tile-based interface just works. The same can be said of the tile-based section on Microsoft’s Surface tablets. (Although, the desktop-like Windows 8 tablet experience leaves a lot to be desired.) On a display small enough for a smartwatch, the software design seems like a natural fit.
Health monitoring from the get-go. I enjoy my Nike (NKE) FuelBand and Nike+ Running app because they track the distances I’ve walked or run and calories burned. It’s a killer feature, and integrating that capability into a smartwatch would make it significantly more useful for exercise junkies.
What about you, Fortune readers? Would you buy a smartwatch from Microsoft, and if so, what features would you like it to have?