Microsoft smartwatch in R&D tip supply sources

Count Microsoft among those on the smartwatch bandwagon, supply chain sources claim, with the company supposedly working on potential smart-timepiece designs as it weighs their market potential. The in-development watch, which follows Kickstarter success Pebble and ongoing chatter of an Apple "iWatch", would be built around a 1.5-inch screen, component sources tell the WSJ, with Microsoft apparently tinkering with possible designs alongside an in-house Windows Phone handset.

Other hardware specifications are unknown, though Microsoft is said to have sourced multiple parts from several component manufacturers in the course of its R&D efforts. A 1.5-inch display would make Microsoft's prototype bigger – at least in screen real-estate – than Pebble, which has a 1.26-inch panel, and the older Sony SmartWatch, which uses a 1.3-inch panel.

Neither device – phone or watch – will necessarily reach the market, however, with Microsoft potentially shelving one or both of the projects. Nonetheless, the company does have a recent track-record in developing its own-brand hardware, with the Surface tablets probably the best known Windows 8 slates on sale.

A smartwatch, then, could slot relatively neatly into that hardware range, offering at-a-glance updates from either Windows Phone or Windows 8. So far, smartwatches released commercially have generally topped out at call and message notifications, calendar reminders, and basic integration with apps, though Apple's rumored project may also bring Siri voice-control functionality to the wrist, some sources have claimed.

It's not the first time Windows Phone has been linked with wearable devices, at least in theory. Back at Mobile World Congress, Nokia described its "head up" concept, where function-specific devices – such as smartwatches – would help pry users' attention away from their smartphone display. The company would not specifically confirm any in-development projects, but did suggest that it had done R&D on different wearable possibilities.

Meanwhile, Microsoft itself has some old history with timepieces. The company pushed out a range of early smartwatches under the SPOT brand back in 2004, though the models were retired by 2008. The so-called "Smart Personal Object Technology" devices accessed data distributed over FM radio frequencies in certain North American cities, but Microsoft shut down its MSN Direct broadcasts in 2012.