Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Watch maker Fossil was among the first companies to support MSN Direct, the smart objects technology first offered by Microsoft in a number of timepieces. Earlier this year, the company, through its Abacus brand, revisited the technology in its Abacus Smart Watch 2006.
While the watch is still on the bulky side, it's slimmed down a bit and Fossil has used a sloping profile to minimize the watch's girth. In fact, the Abacus 2006 was no thicker than a workaday Seiko men's watch I purchased last year. Other improvements include more memory and the inclusion of a year of MSN Direct service. Abacus offers the watch with a metal band that nicely complements the watch's masculine design for $179, as well as a number of leather straps. Unlike nearly any other consumer product that includes Microsoft software, it has nary a trace of Microsoft branding.
Like all of the MSN Direct watches, the 2006 Abacus uses FM radio technology to communicate updates to the device. After activating the timepiece, you choose content channels from a Microsoft Web site. The content has diversified considerably from when the watch was first launched, but it's still mostly focused on the basics, including a variety of different "faces" -- two of which I found attractive, three more of which were acceptable, and several of which were just hideous.