We’ve had the PC, and the smartphone, and then the tablet. Now we are entering a new era, that of the wearable. And Microsoft’s sudden and rather dramatic entrance into the market with the Band is set to be a game changer.
Microsoft’s entry into the wearables market won’t come as a surprise to most, but what will come as a bit of a shock is the choice of wearable. Most had expected the Redmond giant to join the smartwatch fray, rather than come out with what is primarily a fitness band. On first blush it seems like the fitness band market is already overcrowded, with players such as Jawbone, Fitbit and Nike all battling it out for market share. But the health and fitness market is coming into its own right now, and so it’s a good time for an 800-pound gorilla like Microsoft to make a serious play.
On the outside it looks a lot like Samsung’s Gear Fit smart watch. It features a full-color touch-enabled display and can display text, call and email notifications. Surprise, surprise, it also acts like a watch, displaying the time and date, and they both connect to their host device using Bluetooth 4.
But that’s where the similarities end. On the inside, the Microsoft Band is far superior to any other fitness band on the market. It has a built-in GPS tracker to better monitor your movements. It features a UV sensor so the wearer can keep track of their exposure to sunlight. It also features a skin temperature monitor and a heart rate sensor that uses an optical sensor rather than the less accurate audio sensors fitted to many bands.
And then there’s the fact that the Microsoft Band is much more than just a fitness band. It brings a whole raft of features that you’d expect from a smartwatch and builds them right into the band. Features such as Twitter and Facebook integration, calendar, weather, and stock tracking. And for users connecting it to a Windows 8.1 smartphone, they get Cortana integration.
On the subject of connectivity to other devices, Microsoft has taken the bold step of making it platform agnostic, with the Band being compatible with Android 4.3 and 4.4, iOS 7.1 and later, and Windows Phone 8.1.
To complement the Band, Microsoft has also unveiled a cloud-based health service, Microsoft Health. This is a hub that collects data from the Microsoft Band and other third-party devices and apps, with he goal of providing "personal insights so you can reach your fitness goals."
The Microsoft Band retails for $199 — significantly less than the entry price of $349 for the Apple Watch — and is currently only on offer in the US.