Aiming to gain a leg up in the challenging market for wearable devices, Microsoft is layering an increasing amount of functionality onto its own health and activity tracker.
This week, Microsoft is rolling out updates that expand the capabilities of its Band wearable and the Health companion app. Among them is a new Explore Tile that encourages users to get up, get moving and discover new vistas, announced Lindsey Matese, senior communications manager for Microsoft Band and Health.
"Download the app update to receive the Explore Tile, and try out the new experience for yourself," instructed Matese in a blog posting. Like Windows Mobile and certain elements of the Windows 10 user experience, Microsoft Band uses an app-like tiled interface that grants access to its many features and capabilities.
"The Explore Tile uses built-in GPS to keep track of your route on your band's display, and lets you drop points of interest along the way. It's perfect for tracking hikes, or even just a walk around the neighborhood," Matese said.
The new GPS Power Saver helps Microsoft Band owners track their hikes for up to 12 hours while conserving battery power. While on a hike, the wearable can remind users to keep well hydrated and fed. It can also alert users of inclement weather and what the time the sun sets, for safe and successful outdoor adventures.
To prevent sunburns, the Band's ultraviolet (UV) monitor is enabled during hikes. If UV exposure climbs into dangerous territory, the fitness tracker will notify users so that they can find some shade or apply sunscreen. The Hike Tile will automatically pause when the Band detects its owner has stopped moving. After the wearable syncs with the Microsoft Health app, users can view a map of their route along with points of elevation.
Also this week, Microsoft is issuing a Health app for Windows 10 PCs and tablets via the Windows Store. It can be used to sync with Band, update its firmware and manage tiles.
The Health app's social leaderboards gains two new profiles, added Matese. "One profile represents the average daily steps and cardio minutes for your group—the group being the people who share your age, gender and BMI [Body Mass Index]—while the other profile represents those people whose daily steps and cardio minutes rank in the top 25th percentile for your group," she said.
While the original Band quickly sold out when it first debuted in 2014—Microsoft released the updated Band 2 last year—that sales momentum appears to have fizzled. Currently, the company doesn't even rank among the top five wearables vendors, a list that includes Fitbit, Apple, Samsung, Garmin and China's Xiaomi.
A recent forecast from IDC suggests that Microsoft will face even more competition in the years ahead. In March, IDC analysts predicted that the wearable device market will grow 38.2 percent this year with shipments of about 100 million wristbands and smartwatches, and will continue to notch double-digit gains through at least 2020 as more vendors jump into the fray. Fitbit is the market leader in fitness wearables—technically, all wearables according to IDC.