by Jose Fermoso –
Microsoft today leapfrogged the Apple Watch to market by launching the Microsoft Band wearable device, which tracks activity and sleep patterns and provides alerts from smartphones.
The Redmond, Washington-based company set the Microsoft Band’s price at $200, which is $150 below that of the least expensive Apple Watch. The Apple Watch won’t hit stores until spring.
The Band is also $50 less than the Fitbit Surge, which offers similar features such as heart-rate tracking.
The Microsoft Band will pair with smartphones, notifying users of email messages, calendar notes, phone calls, texts and social network updates. Its applications work on Windows, iOS and Android mobile operating systems.
The Band also offers a payment system for Starbucks purchases, allowing people to get their quick cup of java without taking out a wallet.
The Band also integrates with Windows Phone’s Cortana voice application, allowing users to record voice notes and task reminders.
The Band’s software, called Microsoft Health, is already available for download and is compatible with wearable and phone hardware from competing companies.
Enabling the Microsoft Health app to collect data from competing smartphones, bands and smartwatches helps to future-proof Microsoft’s technology against new-product releases from rivals. It may also make potential users more willing to share their information on Microsoft’s platform instead of others, like Apple’s HealthKit.
Yet Microsoft isn’t the only company offering a software health platform that can be used with rival trackers. Jawbone announced last month that it had opened its highly rated health software to other wearable trackers. Jawbone originally offered that software for its UP device.
According to Microsoft, the Band can be worn for 48 consecutive hours without charging. It has 10 sensors to track heart rate and sun exposure, and even comes with a galvanic skin response measurement that Microsoft says can help a user recognize high stress levels.
Microsoft is making the Band immediately available at all Microsoft Stores around the country. All stores will offer demos and giveaways today and 12 of them will have mini-fitness classes led by personal trainers.
Microsoft faces a difficult challenge in the wearables market because it’s already a crowded field, and many of the Band’s features are also offered by competitors.
Some smartbands also offer features that Microsoft’s Band does not. For example, swimmers won’t be able to use the Band, Apple Watch or the Moto 360 watch to accurately track their pool workouts, but the Misfit Flash and the Basis Peak can.
Microsoft executives say the band will use smart software to provide more accurate tracking information than competing hardware. The software will combine data picked up from the steps tracked by the accelerometer, the heart-rate monitor on the band and the built-in GPS on the band to figure out stride length.
Stride length is considered by health professionals to be a more accurate measurement to find out how many calories a user burns. Until now, no major wearable has offered stride-length measurement.
The company says it has been working with fitness professionals to offer custom workouts called Guided Workouts, which can be accessed through the wearable and its software.
Forbes revealed Oct. 19 that Microsoft would announce a wearable device with a focus on health tracking along with communications features. Many were excited to see what the company would come up with, especially since wearables are a rising market in electronics. According to Juniper Research analyst Nitin Bhas, projected 2018 revenue for smart wearable devices, including smart watches and glasses, will be $19 billion.
Although Microsoft may have already flopped in the smartphone market, there are a couple of reasons to think the Band device will be successful.
Microsoft is still capable of making market-leading, exciting technology like the Kinect Xbox accessory. Kinect is one of the leading consumer sensor systems in the world and has smart tech features, like gestures and spoken command control, that are arguably better than those of other competitors.
The sleek, flat design of its Windows Phone operating system is included in the Band wearable, and that’s also a good sign. Over the last few years, Windows Phone design has grown into an attractive package of bold colors and sleek typography. It includes flat font and icon gradients that produce excellent visual contrasts that are easy to see in small displays.
Other watches offer high-quality displays, including bright OLEDs, but there is no underlying, dominant smartband or watch UI or OS quite yet.
If Microsoft plays the Band launch right and manages to get it on the wrists of many customers, it’s not out of the question that it could put itself in good position. But with the Apple Watch coming to market next year, that is admittedly still a big if.