Recent media reports have indicated that Microsoft might be planning a smartwatch in the near future. The highly credible source Forbes indicated that the software giant will release a new wearable device imminently, after a patent for such a consumer product was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States.

Details are still pretty sketchy at this point in time, but one test report has indicated that this forthcoming smartwatch will come in three sizes - small, medium, and large. There appears to be some form of Bluetooth Low Energy radio included in its specifications as well, something which is commonly found in wearable devices.

iOS and Android compatibility

Forbes has speculated that in common with other wearable devices, this Microsoft smartwatch will be particularly focused on fitness, and is likely to be compatible with both Apple iOS and Android devices. This has been previously confirmed by reports elsewhere, with the technology blog Tom’s Hardware originally reporting this back in June.

The Microsoft rumours are indicative of the growing prominence of wearable devices. While wearable technology has yet to become truly mainstream, the existence of the Apple Watch, which is due to be released early in 2015, suggest that this eventuality is not far away. Apple is the world's leading consumer electronics company, and rated by Forbes as the most valuable corporation on the planet, so when they support a particular form of technology, it tends to take off pretty quickly.

$12 billion by 2020

In line with this prediction, it is already projected that the wearable technology market will be worth in the region of $12 billion by 2020. According to the market research report "Wearable Electronics and Technology Market”, the wearables market will grow rapidly in the coming years as huge mainstream corporations such as Apple and Microsoft begin to throw their considerable weight behind the technology.

It is not surprising then that this new technology platform is evolving and developing pretty rapidly. Aside from its fitness focus, the major functionality associated with wearable technology has been in the payment department. It is particularly thought that Apple is launching a watch in order to take advantage of its forthcoming Apple Pay functionality. And other companies in the smartwatch market are also considering this commercial prospect very carefully.

TechWeek Europe recently reported that Samsung will team up with PayPal to offer mobile payments in the next edition of its next Galaxy Gear smartwatch, according to an interview conducted with a company executive. This will be seen as a direct challenge to the Apple Pay project, with Samsung being the most obvious market rival to Apple. With Samsung profits having plummeted lately, the pressure is on the Korean manufacturer to produce something extraordinary in the coming months in order to get themselves back on track financially.

Contactless-payment key

The UK publication The Economist also recently reported on contactless-payment technology, particularly citing Apple Pay as being an important part of this phenomenon in the near future. With such technology taking advantage of radio-frequency identification, it is often asserted that this will in fact offer a more secure way of paying for goods.

But what the Economist article also touches upon is that the potential of such technology, and the wearable market in general, is not merely confined to its present scope. This is a form of technology which will be extremely flexible, and which could deliver a great deal of convenience to consumers once the technology develops in scope and complexity.

In accordance with this notion, GfK, a market research firm, has discovered that consumers can envisage a number of uses for smartwatches, ranging from ticket payments and identity cards to transmitting healthcare data. This perhaps partly reflects the fact that the smartwatch genre hasn't become truly defined yet. There isn't a killer app for smartwatches, and no particular smartwatch has seeped into mainstream consciousness; certainly not to the degree that the iPhone has, for example.

But the potential for this technology to develop in the near future is quite considerable, particularly now that Apple is playing ball with the smartwatch. And travel companies, marketers and tourism-related businesses should definitely pay very close attention to this trend, as there are massive opportunities available to them in a wide variety of spheres once wearable technology becomes commonplace.

Travel companies testing wearables

Previous Digital Tourism Think Tank reports have focused on Vueling partnering with Sony to create the concept of a smartwatch-based boarding pass. Virgin has recently been testing with Google Glass and Sony Smartwatches at Heathrow Airport. And Expedia has already announced its first Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch app.

With Google having launched a new operating system for wearables as recently as March, and Apple now getting in on the act as well, the world’s two most influential technology companies are already taking this technology very seriously. The advantages of wearable tech for the tourism industry opens up a new era of convenience, of boarding passes delivered remotely, and all manner of travel information and commercial services being delivered to passengers’ watches in real-time.

Microsoft, Apple and Google are all aware of these possibilities, and other more humble businesses must take them seriously too.

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