Microsoft has added new social features to its Health app, encouraging Band owners on Facebook to, well, band together to meet their fitness goals. Microsoft Band is a sensor-packed, fitness-centric wearable with an extensive list of health-monitoring capabilities and a smattering of productivity-enhancing features.
The update, expected to roll out within the next several days, enables users to link their Facebook and Microsoft Health accounts and see which friends have already connected their accounts. Alternately, users can invite friends to join. Once everyone is onboard, they can try to one-up each other in various activities.
"With Social Challenges and Leaderboards, create challenges for steps, cardio minutes, longest run or bike ride between you and your Facebook friends who also have a Microsoft Band. Challenges can be one, three, five or seven days," explained the Microsoft Devices team in a March 24 blog post.
While the Band health and activity tracker provides a more full-featured experience, users can also participate using the Microsoft Health app on their iOS, Android or Windows smartphones. Minus Band, the smartphone-app combo only works for steps taken and calories burned, however, limiting the types of challenges in which these users can participate.
The features build on a February update that added a Tournament Mode for Golf setting and new social sharing options. Microsoft streamlined the Band's sharing experience, allowing users to quickly email or text their activity summaries or post them on Facebook and Twitter.
In December, Microsoft added a feature to the Band 2 aimed at improving the health of desk jockeys and couch potatoes. It detects when users sit still for extended periods and reminds them to move around. Users can set time intervals and days they wish to be reminded and block off times to prevent reminders during commutes and sleeping hours.
While generally regarded as a capable and technologically advanced device—particularly after the more wrist-friendly Band 2 redesign—Microsoft Band faces some tough competition in the wearables market.
During 2015, The NPD Group research firm estimates that consumers in the United States snapped up nearly 33 million fitness wearables with an average selling price of $109, up from $96 in 2014. (The Band 2 officially retails for $250, although Microsoft is currently running a promotion that drops its price to $175.) Fitbit is the activity-tracking wearables brand to beat, accounting for 79 percent of total sales last year.
Meanwhile, Apple Watch and other smartwatches appear poised to start moving into Fitbit's turf. NPD found that consumer awareness of the smartwatch device category stood at 83 percent compared with 75 percent for fitness trackers.
Last week, IDC predicted the worldwide wearable device market would grow 38.2 percent this year and continue to notch double-digit gains through 2020. This year, vendors are expected to ship 100 million wristbands and smartwatches, compared with 72.2 million in 2015. Those figures will balloon to 237.1 million units, according to the firm's analysts.