The Market Loves Apple Again, but a Familiar Foe Looms Large

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Earns Apple
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Shares of Apple (AAPL) hit yet another 52-week high this week, and the market is buzzing about the likelihood of larger iPhones and even the long-rumored iWatch hitting the market later this year. However, a familiar foe may get in the way.

Reports have been emerging about a possible smartwatch from Microsoft (MSFT). It's easy to dismiss Microsoft as a has-been in the tech world. It clung to its dominance of the PC market even as desktops and laptops fell out of favor. Microsoft failed to RSVP to the mobile computing party until it was well underway, which is why the Windows Phone and the Surface tablet are well behind what Apple and Google's (GOOG) Android have accomplished in smartphones and tablets.

However, the wearable tech market is still in its infancy, and Microsoft knows that it has to come out of the gate strong if it wants to be taken seriously. Moreover, at a time when Windows PC sales have stalled -- and even the Xbox is losing ground to Sony's (SNE) PlayStation -- it's hungry enough to find leadership in any category.

Microsoft's Getting the Beat

Forbes reported in late May that Microsoft's device will be a "sensor-rich smartwatch that measures heart rate and synchs with iPhones, Android phones and Windows Phones." That would be impressive in many ways.

For starters, measuring heart rate would place it in the larger universe of fitness trackers, where Fitbit and Jawbone are benefiting from brisk sales as folks try to lead more active lifestyles. However, the more important takeaway in that nugget is that Microsoft's high-tech watch will apparently play nice with all three leading mobile operating systems. Perhaps the biggest thing holding back Samsung's (SSNLF) Galaxy Gear line is that it is limited to select Samsung Android devices. When the iWatch rolls out, it will likely be limited to iPhones and iPads. Why would Apple put out an accessory that benefits rival smartphones?

Microsoft producing a device that will support Apple's iOS and Google's Android is an admission that Windows itself isn't a big enough market in mobile gadgetry. But the refreshing self-awareness also gives it a better shot at succeeding than the other devices that are hogtied to a single mobile operating system. The original Pebble that kicked off the smartwatch revolution was smart enough to work for both Android and iOS handset owners, but its features were too primitive. Microsoft has a shot if it's a high-end smartwatch that can connect all of the leading platforms.

Microsoft Needs to Be More than Fit

We may need to temper our enthusiasm for Microsoft regaining relevance in a booming consumer electronics niche. Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows reported last week that Microsoft's device -- while working on all three mobile operating systems -- will be more of a wristband than a watch. Smartphone notifications will come through, but the slender build of the device will give it more of an emphasis in the suddenly crowded field of fitness trackers.

Even if it is that way, it would be the first step into a wearable market that will inevitably become a full-blown and full-sized smartwatch. The moment that Microsoft succeeds in a market where Samsung and Apple have yet to gain a foothold, it will expand its product line aggressively.

For more on investing the wearable tech revolution -- and one small company that makes these gadgets possible -- just click here. Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (C shares) and Microsoft.


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