Microsoft threw its hat in the wearable device ring on October 29 when the company began selling a smartwatch-like gadget called the “Microsoft Band”. Was this move strategic or merely a coincidence? The product launch is in time for this holiday season and just months before longtime adversary Apple is due to release their iWatch. The iWatch is expected to go to market early in 2015 and will start at $349. The Microsoft Band, in stores now, retails for $199. Microsoft’s Vice President Yusuf Meghi avoided comparisons between the Band and iWatch. He stated Microsoft didn’t design the Band to be a statement piece, referencing the iWatch’s fashionable appearance.
If not a statement piece, what niche does the Band fall in? Essentially, Microsoft’s Band is a wearable fitness piece similar to the popular Fitbit wristband ($149). The Band, however, is loaded with features and has ten sensors to track a host of health and fitness issues. GPS is onboard for those who prefer not to haul extra devices when tracking running routes. The gadget can measure: skin temperature, steps, deep sleep, calorie burning, workout progress, stress levels (via electrical resistance in the skin) and heart rate. It also measures ultraviolet light exposure to help determine when to use sunscreen. Microsoft Band is loaded with fitness features, but it doesn’t skimp on productivity.
The Band is compatible with Gold’s Gym, MyFitnessPal, RunKeepper, Jawbone and MapMyFitness. A Starbucks app enables users to buy drinks using their wristband. Microsoft paired the device with a cross-platform app, Health. Most exciting and unlike any other big seller, this wearable device will work with all three platforms, Windows Phones, IOS and Android. Users must pair the Band to a Windows Phone to use only one feature but some would claim this feature is significant, Cortana. Cortana software enables the consumer to perform a variety of tasks by giving voice commands. According to comScore, an American analytics company that provides data to agencies and publishers, Microsoft holds a dismal 3.6 percent of 2014 United States smartphone sales. Microsoft is hoping some Band users will buy Windows Phones to obtain Cortana’s features, in turn boosting phone sales.
There are plenty of smartwatch-like productivity features available on the Band and offered across the three operating systems. Band adapters will be notified of phone calls, emails, calendar events, Facebook and Twitter, weather and stock information. Users may also respond to texts via a preset response.
The Microsoft Band is composed of thermal plastic, comes in three adjustable sizes and has a 1.4 inch touch screen. Under typical use the battery will last 48 hours. Initially, quantities are limited while Microsoft gauges consumers’ reactions. Speculation has been brewing as to whether or not the Microsoft Band will outnumber Apple iWatch sales. Many surmise Microsoft is finally fighting back in an industry (mobile) they have been lagging in; the Band is their trump card. In the upcoming months, the Microsoft versus Apple rivalry will continue to unfold. Stay tuned.