Microsoft to discontinue MSN Direct

The wireless information service initially delivered data to watches

Starting in 2012, users of certain GPS devices will no longer get traffic updates, weather reports and other data because Microsoft is discontinuing its MSN Direct service.

Microsoft has posted a notice on its MSN Direct Web site informing users that the service will be available only until Jan. 1, 2012.

MSN Direct is most often associated with Microsoft's Smart Watch program. That program was the first to use the MSN Direct service to send information like news headlines, stock quotes, weather and traffic information to special wristwatches.

MSN Direct uses FM radio frequencies to deliver the data. But Microsoft says that there are better ways to send such information today. "Leveraging unused FM radio spectrum to broadcast data represented a step forward in 2004, however, many choices today including WiFi, cellular, FM RDS [Radio Data System] and other digital networks are now readily available and are continuing to grow in popularity," according to the MSN Direct Web site. "Despite good initial MSN Direct adoption, these alternatives have significantly reduced demand for MSN Direct service."

After it launched the watch program, Microsoft began marketing the MSN Direct service to other devices, including GPS units, weather stations and even coffee makers. GPS makers Garmin and Pioneer sell a range of units that can receive MSN Direct data.

Garmin did not immediately reply to a request for comment about whether it will try to replace the MSN Direct information service. Microsoft said that products that support the service will continue to be available "for some time."

Some people may be able to return a device because of the impending end of service, however. "If service beyond 01/01/2012 is a concern, please see your retailer for information on device returns," Microsoft wrote on the Web site.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's founder, seemed to be a big fan of the watches, launching the program at the Consumer Electronics Show. In 2004 after MSN Direct first launched, a Microsoft executive said there were thousands of people subscribing to it for their watches. However, the Smart Watch never really took off.

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