Recently, Microsoft announced their entry into the smartwatch/fitness tracker market: The Microsoft Band. As the name implies, this product leans more towards the fitness band end of that spectrum. Smartwatches seem to be all the rage these days, but only time will tell whether they’ll actually catch on or if they’re just another tech fad. Still, for the time being, people are definitely interested in smartwatches, and getting into this market is a good move for Microsoft. From what I’ve seen on Microsoft’s website, I actually think they have a shot with this one. Ultimately, the product’s success will come down to whether or not it actually performs well, but Microsoft has taken several preliminary steps that will definitely help its cause.
As I said, the Microsoft Band is a fitness tracker first, and a smartwatch second. This strategy directly contrasts with the Apple Watch. For the time being, I think that this is a good play for Microsoft, even if it is a safe one. The smartwatch market is young, and we’re still figuring out exactly how much you can, and can’t, do on such a tiny little screen. This means that any smartwatch that attempts to do too much might end up frustrating users. Microsoft has given the band a fitness focus, including features such as step counting, GPS run tracking, and heart rate monitoring. The band does pair with a smartphone and give you push notifications, but from what I can tell that’s about all it does as far as smartwatch features go. This may be enough however; any additional functionality may be so cramped that it’s not worth the saved effort of pulling out your phone.
I didn’t actually hear about the Microsoft Band from Microsoft; RunKeeper told me. Microsoft has partnered with what are arguably the three most popular fitness apps: RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, and MyFitnessPal. I like this approach. It says, “We’re a technology company and we admit that we’re not exactly experts on fitness. Therefore, in order to give you a good product, we’re partnering with people who do know about fitness.” The best way for a tech company to shoot themselves in the foot is to create a poorly executed knock off of a service people already use and like. By humbling themselves and partnering with others, Microsoft has avoided this problem.
I’ve saved my biggest point for last. The Microsoft Band will work with both iOS and Android, in addition to Windows Phone. This is hugely different from other smartwatches on the market. There are certainly benefits to a company only allowing their watch on their platform. Most important is the fact that doing so will give your users a more coherent experience. However, for someone like Microsoft, whose smartphone platform isn’t as popular as others, making their watch cross platform is definitely a good move. Microsoft was also smart enough to use the Microsoft Band as a hook for the rest of their platform. In the same way that the Apple Watch has Siri, the Microsoft Band has Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana. Cortana does about what you would expect it to do, but there’s a catch. Cortana is only available if you have a Windows Phone. This approach, “Sure, this product works with what you’ve got, but it works really well with our other products,” is a good one in my opinion. Worst case, people keep pulling out their iPhones to use Siri. Best case, the Microsoft Band becomes another reason for people to use Windows Phone.
All this discussion leaves one question: How much does this thing cost? The answer? $199. This seems just a little steep to me; I was hoping it would be in the $100-$150 range like the Pebble. However, compared to the $349 Apple Watch, it’s not bad. I don’t see myself buying a Microsoft Band (since I already have a fitness tracker that I like), but I do think Microsoft could have a winner here. Only time will tell, but until then, I’d like to hear your opinion. Let your voice be heard in the comments below! Thanks for reading! ••