Microsoft has jumped into the growing fitness wearables marketplace with the introduction of its new Microsoft Band wrist-worn fitness monitor and Microsoft Health cloud-based platform, which can be used to support additional devices and services for users.
The new Microsoft Band, now available for $199 exclusively through the Microsoft Store, was announced by the company Oct. 29, as was the health platform. It heads into a marketplace filled with competitors such as Sony, Samsung, Fitbit and others.
The Microsoft Band is available in three sizes—small, medium and large—and includes features such as continuous heart rate monitoring, calorie burn measurement, sleep quality tracking and notifications for calls, emails, texts and social media updates. Users can also receive guided workouts and run mapping via GPS using their Microsoft Band. The device works with the Microsoft Health app, which is available on Windows Phone, iOS and Android so that it can function with just about any smartphone that a user owns.
Microsoft phone users who link their smartphones to their Band can use Microsoft's Cortana electronic personal assistant to take notes or set reminders using voice or to get driving directions and updates on traffic, sports, stocks, weather and more.
The Microsoft Band, which has a 1.4-inch touch-screen display, was developed over the last several years by a team of engineers and helps to fill a new product category within the company, according to Microsoft. The security-enhanced Microsoft Health platform, which stores and analyzes all of the data from the devices, was also created. Microsoft Health can unite data from different health and fitness devices and services into one secure location for users, according to Microsoft.
The platform also works with other apps, including UP by Jawbone, MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper. The Band is designed to be worn 24 hours a day and includes 10 smart sensors for monitoring a user's activities and health.
In the future, additional capabilities will be added, such as the ability to combine fitness data with calendar and email information from Office as well as location-based information, the company stated. As users add their data, the platform's intelligence engine will learn more about the user and provide powerful insights, such as how work schedules affect fitness performance, whether eating breakfast helps a user run faster or how the number of meetings a user has each day might impact sleep quality, the post explained.
Microsoft Band also includes a mobile payments feature, which is available initially at Starbucks. Users can link their Microsoft Health app to a Starbucks card, which can then be used to make purchases at Starbucks locations in the United States.
The Microsoft Band arrives on the heels of Fitbit's latest fitness device, the Surge smartwatch, which was announced on Oct. 27. Fitbit's Surge smartwatch is that company's first venture into the dedicated smartwatch marketplace, bringing Fitbit into more direct competition against companies, such as Apple, Samsung, Sony and LG. Fitbit devices in the past lacked integrated smartwatch features or capabilities, previously making them niche devices for exercise, athletic training and in-event sports performance. That all changed with the new Surge smartwatch, which for the first time includes features such as caller ID, text alerts and mobile music control for wearers.
The Surge, which will retail for $249.95 and be available to consumers sometime in early 2015, also includes typical fitness-tracking features, such as continuous 24/7 heart-rate monitoring and built-in GPS to provide information on exercise pace, distance, elevation, split times, route history and workout summaries. The smartwatch can also record monitoring for multi-sport activities, such as running, cross-training and strength workouts.
The wearable device market is expected to top 19 million units this year, and jump to 111.9 million units in 2018, IDC analysts said in April. Canalys analysts in September said the wearable band market should grow 129 percent a year, hitting 43.2 million units in 2015. Of those, 28.2 million will be smartbands, with the other 15 million being basic bands (which, unlike smartbands, cannot run third-party applications), the analysts said.