How Microsoft's expected fitness band fits into its new wearables game plan

Microsoft isn't going the Smartwatch 2.0 route with its rumored fitness band. Instead, the company has a more targeted and cloud-connected wearables game plan, sources say.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Rumors about a coming Microsoft smartwatch have been circulating for a while. As of a few months ago, that "smartwatch" was sounding more like it would be a fitness band.


On October 19, Forbes reconfirmed its own and Windows SuperSite's reports that the first of Microsoft's new wearables looked to be a fitness band, not a more fully-featured watch. The latest reports claim the coming Microsoft fitness band could be available for purchase this holiday season. (Or at least by the very end of this year, if Microsoft can get its ducks in a row.)

A related aside: Eagled-eyed reader Erdim Tanyeri spotted what might or might not be a prototype of the Microsoft fitness band during the "Agents of Shield" TV show on October 7. (See the image embedded above.) He noted that this particular show often features Microsoft products, including Surfaces and Lumias. I have no idea if the fitness band he saw is something Microsoft provided to the studio, but at the very least, it provides an idea of what a Microsoft fitness band could look like based on previous tips and leaks.

I heard earlier this summer that Microsoft was rethinking what its first new wearable device should be. Rather than going all-in with yet another fully-featured, me-too smartwatch aimed at the masses, the company was leaning more towards a more targeted device appealing to a more limited audience. 

Rumor has it that the Microsoft fitness band will work not just with Windows Phone, but also with iPhones and Android phones. That makes sense given the new Microsoft's cross-platform push.

It's the Microsoft side of the wearables equation that interests me the most, however. I'm expecting the coming fitness band to have a Windows core inside the device, given Microsoft execs' insistence that Windows 10 will run "everywhere," meaning from the smallest Internet of Things devices, to datacenter servers.

The Operating Systems Group team at Microsoft is building a common set of graphics, gaming and media consumption/creation services that will work on PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox consoles and wearables. I'd assume there will be a similar push on the development side of the house to enable developers to access a common set of tools and programming interfaces to build apps for all of these different Windows platforms (to the extent that the UI/form factor allows).

Before the iWatch: A history of smartwatches, in pictures

Don't forget Microsoft recently relaunched ots MSN.com portal. The revamped Health and Fitness vertical on MSN.com allows users to maintain their daily diet intake journal; track their cardio exercise; record a run with GPS coordinates (on GPS-enabled phones); track their weight and steps; analyze historical diet, exercise and other data; and store favorite foods and exercises. Microsoft's HealthVault is no longer required to sync across devices for the Health & Fitness app. But Microsoft officials said they are not planning to phase out HealthVault, which is a service where users can store their medical information.

(There's an interesting cloud connection here, too. The new MSN.com is using the Azure NoSQL service, known as DocumentDB, as a core component of its User Data Store. Health and Fitness is one of the first of the new MSN.com verticals going live on Azure DocumentDB.)

MSN decided to use Azure DocumentDB as a core component of UDS. Health and Fitness is one of the first MSN verticals going live on Azure DocumentDB with the new MSN launch. The other MSN verticals will soon start using an updated UDS architecture layered on top of Azure DocumentDB.

I've heard from my contacts that Microsoft also has been working on what might be its second wearable. Known internally as "Project B," this sounds like it will be a gaming helmet if and when it ends up coming to market. (Patent applications by Microsoft for such a helmet date back to 2012.)

I could see Microsoft offering its rumored fitness band and gaming helmet as part of various bundles with its Xbox and/or its Windows Phones/Surface tablets. That would be a sounder strategy, to me, than simply building yet another smartwatch that offers users little they can't do today with their smartphones alone...

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