According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft is apparently jumping on the bandwagon and they are testing prototypes for optical wear similar to Google Glass. This could potentially push the company into that market. A source familiar with the project said the company has asked several component makers in Asia to supply cameras and other key components for prototypes. The person has cautioned, however, the device may not reach mass production.
Tests show Microsoft is keeping close tabs on the emerging market for “wearable” technology, which includes wristwatches that replicate some features of smartphones and more bizarre ideas, such as tattoos to log people onto their computers. Market-research firm ABI Research is expecting annual sales of wearable devices will reach 485 million units by the year 2018. Microsoft is “determined to take the lead in hardware manufacturing to make sure the company won’t miss out on the opportunities in the wearable gadget market,” the source said.
These tests show that Microsoft’s efforts to transform itself from mainly a software company into one that produces the gadgets on which their software will run. Smartphones and other hardware devices have helped transform consumer technology and have established the likes of rival Apple as a tech giant. By contrast, Microsoft has largely been sidelined in the consumer hardware market. Microsoft’s determination to become a bigger player in consumer tech gear was underscored by its $7 billion acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone business. The company last year also started making its own tablet device; Surface and apparently the company is currently testing its own Web-connected watch.
In wearable computing, Google has been the prototype leader in the wearable tech field with the company’s Google Glass device. It has a postage-stamp-sized computer screen just above the right eye which coupled with internal components and software, allows the user to take photos with voice commands and get digital directions without looking at a smartphone. Some say companies making gadgets that duplicate features of mobile phones could undercut smartphone sales. As competition drives down prices of most technology, wearable tech also could provide an opening for higher-cost gear. “The wearable trend has the potential to boost the currently thin margins of consumer technology products by allowing tech brands to price their products at the kind of premiums normally reserved for fashion accessories,” said HSBC analyst Jenny Lai.
Samsung recently introduced a web-connected watch and back in May. Interestingly, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said wearable computers will be a “key branch” in technology, though he said he didn’t believe eyewear-like gear would have mainstream appeal.
As of Oct. 10, Microsoft has 78 U.S. patents related to head-mounted displays and other wearable technologies and 94 published pending applications, according to intellectual property firm Envision IP. Google had 59 such U.S. patents, Envision said.
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