Microsoft pulled a Microsoft this week, by announcing what appeared to be another too-late, competition-cloning, ‘me-too’ product for no one, in the form of the Microsoft Band health wearable.
The thing is, though, even though it’s an easy target, Microsoft is attempting to do a lot more here than Apple’s trying with its more glamorous Watch.
For a start, Microsoft Band is open. There’s a Microsoft Health app for it already up on the Google Play shop and in Apple’s App Store, for example, which means that it’s not just for the Windows Phone hardcore. That’s a brave decision, although one that makes pretty clear sense given the massive difference between Android/iPhone and Windows Phone user numbers.
A health band exclusively sold to Windows Phone users would sell in numbers so low analysts would be issuing sales forecasts counting quarterly shipped units by the dozen.
But there’s more to get excited about than cross-platform appeal. The Band is stacked with sensors. Sure, the health wearable world is built mainly on lies and marketing, as there’s pretty much zero use in knowing what your heart rate is at any given moment, not unless you’re a professional athlete training to within an inch of your life each day.
And the calculation of calories burnt by counting steps is something overweight people have been doing in their heads since the 1970s, so it hardly worth spending £200 on a watch to do that for you.
People have been able to successfully manually track their sleep by simply remembering how well they slept the following morning; no one needs a gadget to tell them they woke up twice during the night and maybe got a bit a hot and kicked the duvet off in annoyance. If that happened, you know it happened… because it happened. Not everything needs a notification.
Band on the run
At least Microsoft is trying to do more than clone Fitbit. The Band has a built-in UV monitor that might be of some use to more UV-sensitive types venturing out for a run for the first time. It lets you reply to text messages via short auto-replies, and even contains a galvanic skin response sensor that can, allegedly, measure the stress of the wearer.
Stress tests are likely to be another infrequently used guestimator, but still it’s something new and interesting, and a shot at doing more than just the usual heart-beat-counting stuff and offering on-wrist notifications.
And in more good news for anyone who’s struggling to keep all their wearables and pocketables charged, Microsoft says the Band hardware should be good for two days of normal use.
And that one’s the killer. Apple suggests its Watch will need charging every day, so although you get a flashier screen and OS, having half the usable uptime is going to make Apple’s first wearable much more of a burden.
The Band screen is smaller and it doesn’t do as much as the full-on smartwatches, of course, and you won’t look as obviously minted as if you were wearing a thing with an Apple logo on it, but it’ll work for two entire days. For that alone Microsoft’s engineers deserve some credit.
Apple and Google’s wearables are sure to have more fans, greater sales and higher levels of general enthusiasm surrounding them, but Band seems to show Microsoft can mix it with its more fashionable and younger competitors – and could one day come up with some hardware that’s actually popular and genuinely innovative.
- Which wearable tech is best for you?