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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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/31/2014 | 12:37:27 PM
Re: GPS independence, good; battery life, weak; need for accuracy, overblown
Good point about sensor accuracy, Doug.

To me, sensor accuracy speaks to the potential for these devices to be medical tools rather than fitness tools. I'm sure Apple, Microsoft et al are hesitant to go through all the steps involed with having their devices regulated, and perhaps are more interested in leaving that to third-party accessories that interface with their devices and services. But accuracy will be important for many true medical applications. For fitness, it's more important to get a reliable baseline that can be used to track improvement. Accuracy (as long as it's pretty close) isn't as important here; consistent results that can show progress are what most users will want.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 12:34:51 PM
Re: Less is more?
Likely MS sees putting out an excellent wearable at a low price as a way to build interest in its mobile platform. I found the concept of licensing its sensors interesting, too. You won't see Apple doing that.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 12:23:01 PM
Re: Less is more?
Good points, Shane-- sort of what I was getting at with Item 9, and the point about ecosystem evolution. Microsoft seems to be focused mostly on a Health platform that's part of an emerging "analytics-as-a-service" branch of Azure. Apple, in contrast, seems focused on an app ecosystem that includes a health platform as one of its elements. There are overlaps in these approaches, but there are also important distinctions in philosophy.

That said, I'm not sure if the Apple Watch will feel bloated. No one outside Cupertino has really spent much time using the apps, so we can't fully judge yet if Apple is loading up our wrists with useless functions, or if they've actually created a viable new UI models, just as they did with iOS. Even so, I like Microsoft's focus and aggressive price. I'm certainly tempted to give Band a try.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 12:20:59 PM
Re: Less is more?
This thing is pretty interesting and is one of the few things that I would consider to dip my toe in the MS Mobile Pool.  I haven't had a true MS mobile device since an HP unit I had in, gulp, 2005?  Swore I would never get a MS Smartphone, but this thing may just be an ingenius move by MS.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 12:17:16 PM
Re: Hmmmm
@mel,


No subtext intended in the diction, though the English major in me appreciates your attention to language.


As for references to Apple, I'd offer two points:

-- The vast majority of this article describes ways in which Microsoft Band compares favorably to Apple Watch, which doesn't really suggest systemic pro-Apple bias, at least to my mind.

-- Apple Watch is undeniably the smartwatch reference point for a majority of readers. It's the device that's generated the most buzz, that's most highly anticipated, and with which readers are most likely to be familiar. As such, any discussion of Microsoft Band almost has to include references to Apple Watch-- otherwise, the discussion would lack appropriate context.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 11:58:00 AM
Re: One to watch (haha, get it?)
Good point Laurie, Microsoft's poor mobile track record may hurt the Band even if it is a killer product. As in, why should I trust you Microsoft when all your mobile efforts have been a bust? 
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 11:23:28 AM
Re: Hmmmm
@malharden> I thought the article did a good job of making me interested in the product; not sure how the Apple bias won out if that's the case. I was trying to think what other word to use instead of "issues" - maybe it was a poor choice because for the most part the "issues" raised weren't actually negative (which is what issues might imply). I didn't think of a good alternative, but maybe there is a better one to use.

 

The first commenter, by the way, was the article's author, so if you believe he (or IW) has an Apple bias, then I guess in your view it's inevitable. Mind you, the question was targetted at people waiting on another high profile wearable and asking them if this sways them - is that bias, or just a sensible question to be asking?
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 11:20:34 AM
Re: One to watch (haha, get it?)
Wow, I am surprised by the price. It is definitely an appealing selling point. It is coming out in perfect time for when people do holiday shopping. I think this might be a hit! I would like to hear more reviews though, before I consider purchasing it.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 11:12:41 AM
Re: One to watch (haha, get it?)
The price and timing are intriguing; I am surprised Apple will miss the holiday season with its watch. However MS buyers will wonder "Is this the next Zune?" Does it have staying power?
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2014 | 10:51:16 AM
GPS independence, good; battery life, weak; need for accuracy, overblown
I see the big pluses of this device being built-in GPS tracking and low price. For athletes, watches that rely on phones for GPS are losers. It's also a big plus that the band works with other phones and popular third-party sites like MapMyFitness and RunKeeper.

I see the two-day battery life as a big negative. I have a Nike+ GPS watch that lasts 10 days at a minimum. The old Nike+ sportbands (now-antiquated devices that required a shoe sensor) lasted 30+ days. I have a Polar watch that supports heartrate monitoring (but not GPS) that runs for more than  a year on a single replaceable battery. Most GPS watches last far longer than 2 days.

As for this repeated "if it's accurate" caveat, I think that's a bit overblown. Consistency is more important that raw accuracy. Even if the measurements are off by a few percentage points one way or the other, they're probably consistently off. The real point of measurement is seeing the increases, decreases and trends over time. If you see a faster return to resting heart rate after intense excercise, for example, that's a sign of progress wheather the resting-pulse measurement is 55 or 60. 
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