Microsoft Band Wearable: 9 Key Issues - InformationWeek

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10/31/2014
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Microsoft Band Wearable: 9 Key Issues

Microsoft has packed its wearable Band with advanced sensors, cloud-powered health insights, and an affordable price. Is Microsoft ahead of the curve in this new mobile market?

Wearables At Work: 7 Productivity Apps
Wearables At Work: 7 Productivity Apps
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Is Microsoft finally ahead of the curve in the mobile market? Its smartphone struggles have become the stuff of cautionary tales, but with its Microsoft Band, the company might finally have a mainstream winner.

Yes, Microsoft's wrist-worn, fitness-oriented device looks like some of the models already on the market, such as Samsung's Gear Fit. But many current wearables have been criticized as glorified step-trackers or wrist-worn smartphones. Band, in contrast, promises a different type and depth of functionality.

The device relies not only on a bevy of sensors, but also on machine learning technology cultivated in Microsoft's cloud. Microsoft says this combination will help Band recognize not simply when your heart rate goes up or down, as many wearables already do, but also why the change occurred, what it means, and how the information might be useful.

With its Surface tablets, Microsoft fumbled for nearly two years before finally establishing modest momentum with the Surface Pro 3. With Band, does the company finally have a mobile device that can succeed out of the gate? Here are nine things to consider about Microsoft's new wearable.

Microsoft Band
Microsoft Band

1. Band is competitively priced and available right away.
Though Microsoft claims Band offers the most advanced array of sensors in any wearable, the device is surprisingly budget-friendly at $199. Some Android Wear options are a bit cheaper, but none of these models has yet set the market on fire, at any price. Among upcoming high-end wearables, Fitbit's Surge will run $250 while Apple Watch will start at $349, with some versions likely to cost much, much more.

In addition to being lighter on the wallet than competitors, Band is also available (albeit in limited quantities) right away. Neither Surge nor Apple Watch will hit the market until 2015, meaning Microsoft will have the entire holiday season to tempt shoppers who otherwise might have waited to take the wearables plunge.

2. Microsoft says Band's sensors are extremely accurate.  
As rumored, Band includes a variety of sophisticated sensors, including an optical heart rate sensor, accelerometer, skin temperature sensor, and UV sensor, among others. But sensors are only useful if they collect accurate information. Microsoft claims Band is up to the task. In fact, the company is so confident, it's offering to license Band's 10-sensor modules to third parties so they can build their own devices. Time will tell if Microsoft's sensors are as good as advertised. Apple has made broadly similar claims about the sensor accuracy in its upcoming smartwatch.

Microsoft Band includes 10 sensors.
Microsoft Band includes 10 sensors.

3. With Microsoft Health, Band will know how hard you work and what's stressing you out.
Microsoft Health might be the most interesting and ambitious aspect of Band. Accessible via a number of cross-platform apps, Microsoft Health crunches data that Band collects and turns it into practicable insights. Apple's Health app and Google's Fit promise similar functions as a one-stop repository for health data, but Microsoft promises a level of useful analysis that others have only hinted at.

Theoretically, the more information users share with Microsoft Health, the smarter its insights and recommendations will become. At launch, if a user wears Band

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 2:06:06 PM
Re: Hmmmm
I agree there's a bias but I don't think it's necessarily Apple's fault.  Microsoft's history is littered with failures and half-baked products -- both software and hardware.  Do they deserve a break?  Mabye.  However, I think they've earned a bit of skepticism.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 2:00:47 PM
Re: One to watch (haha, get it?)
I'd like to expand your comment -- Microsoft's history with all hardware products casts a mighty big shadow on anything new.

Forget the failures.  Even when a product attains competitive/volume parity with market leaders or, some would argue, holds a market-leading position like the XBOX 360, Microsoft still finds a way to set the barn on fire with all the horses inside.

This makes me question Microsoft's entire product development approach.  How do they decide what features are required?  How do they test market their products and learn what's right and wrong?  How do they determine a product is ready?  If a product takes flight, are they prepared to offer the next version with compelling upgrades?

I know Satya seems to be preaching and coaching change but has he done enough?  As you said, will customer's trust them?
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 1:10:20 PM
Re: Less is more?
@Lorna,

Thank you for your comment, and I think you're right, Microsoft and many other tech companies are blurring those lines to the point that the process of transition from your work environment to your home (swithing machines) is very seamless.
Lorna Garey
IW Pick
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 1:07:11 PM
Re: Less is more?
Why does it have to choose between business and consumer? In fact, I'd argue those lines are blurring fast. I think it's a smart strategy to encourage that overlap. Maybe companies purchase these bands as an employee-wellness program. The two are not mutually exclusive.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 1:04:02 PM
Re: GPS independence, good; battery life, weak; need for accuracy, overblown
@Michael,

Thank you for your reply...I think for many companies that because of the nature of the job (sitting down in front of a screen for 8 hours) it's a huge morale booster.

I'm already imagining schools and other institutions adopting similar programs....very cool!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 12:48:43 PM
Re: GPS independence, good; battery life, weak; need for accuracy, overblown
Absolutely, for specific portions of the population with specific medial needs (e.g. the elderly, diabetics, etc.), wearble devices offer great potential.

Speaking to your question about business uses, this kind of tech could play a role in corporate wellness programs-- e.g. in which employees are incentivized to exercise via lower health care costs or other benefits.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 12:48:11 PM
Re: Less is more?
@Michael,

I agreed,

Even though Apple has done an impressive job as squeezign in so much features and functionality into a wrist watch, there's still the question is it'll be something that consumers really use? (I can't picture my self sending a text message from a watch).

So like you mention, Microsoft is definilty doing the right thing at targetting a price range that's more accesible, and could have higher probability of being more widely use.

In fact, if Microsoft allows for the watch to interact with PCs and Laptops (since the user base is wider than windows smartphones), it would be a hit.

Like similar products, the watch would interact with the home PC/Laptop, and be able to capture and process data while at home, exercising, etc.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 12:44:53 PM
Re: Less is more?
@Lorna,

Here's a question.... is Microsoft aiming this to be part of it's consumor product portoflio? business? or both?

With the surface, Microsoft had some rought leassons learned before going back to it's roots and aiming the new Surface mostly as a laptop replacement than a consumer tablet.

It would be interesting to see how these wearbles cross between devices and environments (consumers vs business)
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 12:42:59 PM
Re: Less is more?
Indeed, Lorna, the licensing piece is quite interesting. I assume Microsoft wants Windows for Wearables to run on third-party devices, just like Google wants OEMs to build Android Wear devices. If Microsoft uses its own first-party devices as a kind of reference design for other manufacturers, it could help the wearables-oriented version of Windows 10 to pick up steam. Microsoft hasn't said much about the OS on the device (SDKS, etc), but I expect we'll hear more soon. Also suggests that after making some OEMs uneasy with its Surface tablets, Microsoft is sensitive to competiting with its own partners.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 12:42:51 PM
Re: GPS independence, good; battery life, weak; need for accuracy, overblown
@Michael,

To add to your comment... and like you mention, once these types of devices are blessed by the powers that be, we would see a wider level of implementation in the health sector.

I think that care for elderly would be one where many relatives will welcome a more technololgy driven way to monitor patients.

 
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