Microsoft Unveils Fitness Band, Health Tracking Platform and App

31 Oct 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

7 Ways Satya Nadella’s Microsoft Is Completely Transformed.

If Microsoft wanted to grab a slice of the impending Apple Watch audience, it couldn’t have crafted a better plan than with its just-released Microsoft Band. Seattle: Microsoft unveiled an activity-tracking wristband and related Internet-based service that can track and analyse health, fitness and sleep data, jumping into the crowded wearable-computer market.Normally when you hear about gadgets selling out it’s the latest piece from Apple or Google, a Microsoft device selling out on launch day isn’t something we’re very used to.

The $199 Microsoft Band, on sale from Thursday, works with the company’s free Health application, which uses machine learning to interpret data and can run on its Windows system, Apple’s iOS mobile software and Google’s Android, said Yusuf Mehdi, vice president of devices and studios. But with nifty features, a more affordable price tag, and a broader potential audience, Microsoft is taking a different approach than Apple and other wearable makers. Microsoft is entering the burgeoning market for connected wearable devices — now dominated by smaller companies like Fitbit — at the same time as Apple prepares to debut its own smartwatch.

Whether Nadella’s plans for Microsoft succeed, it’s clear the company is dramatically different from the Microsoft that ruled the technology industry in the 80s and 90s. Microsoft’s band and the cloud-based app play to an area that Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella sees as a strength of Microsoft’s: using advanced algorithms and data- analysis tools to tie information together and draw insights. Microsoft launched Band on Thursday, alongside a service called Microsoft Health, a new wellness tracking platform that dovetails with the wearable and competes directly with the likes of Google Fit and Apple Health.

The band and app will track statistics such as how much deep sleep a user gets, whether calories burned are from fat or carbohydrates, and suggested recovery time from a particular type of exercise. It comes pre-loaded with workouts from Gold’s Gym, as well as programs from Shape and Men’s Fitness magazines, and works with apps from RunKeeper, MapMyFitness and Jawbone.

It acts as a hub for health data, whether it’s coming from Microsoft Band or other fitness trackers and apps such as Jawbone UP, MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, and RunKeeper. Worldwide, wearable-device shipments are projected to jump to about 113 million in 2018 from six million last year, said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.

Considering that there were large queues forming, and every single size of the device has sold out online, I can’t imagine it’s a case of Microsoft restricting units. Microsoft’s device and app stand out for their information-analysis capabilities, he said. “The real value in this is really with Microsoft Health,” Llamas said. “One thing health and fitness trackers do incredibly well today is tell you about your past, but you would be hard-pressed to find devices that do a decent job of giving you actionable information.” Microsoft Band, which includes 10 sensors such as a GPS, can also send notifications from a user’s Windows Phone and lets consumers automatically pay for Starbucks Corp. beverages. That’s laudable, but the way Microsoft might actually succeed at wearables, at least according to Gownder, a principal analyst with tech research outfit Forrester Research, is if it ends up providing richer insights than its competitors. To that end, the company spent a tremendous amount of resources to develop a product that’s not just functional, but also good looking enough to wear every day.

It comes in an incredible number of varieties: You can get it with a gold band, a chain link band, a silicone band, and in different colors, textures, and types of clasps. In the future, Microsoft will let users choose to link the app and band to Office programs, reminders and calendar data, which could track how much someone exercises while traveling or how well a person sleeps in a week with a lot of meetings, said Zulfi Alam, Microsoft’s general manager of personal devices.

Health can track a user’s steps, calories, heart rate, UV index, and more, and afterwards, Microsoft’s “Intelligence Engine: crunches the data and spits out real-world insights across nutrition, work, fitness, and rest—which could be anything from how long you need to recover before your next workout to how much of your sleep from the previous night was restful. “If they’re successful at that,” says Gownder, “they’re going to be giving people less data and more advice that actually makes a difference.” Indeed, given its good standing in cloud computing and data processing, Microsoft just might be in a unique enough position to pull this off. Yes, his mansplaining about salaries revealed an ability to insert his foot in his mouth, but most accounts of his temperament describe a low-key and humble personality at odds with those of his predecessors. But, considering the success its had in a mere 24 hours it would make sense that Microsoft would want to make sure it becomes available in other major markets. According to one recent survey, about a third of users who buy fitness trackers end up wearing them infrequently or stop using them altogether after a year or so.

But, Gownder points out, maybe it’s simply that the advice coming from other trackers isn’t useful enough to incentivize people to keep wearing them. Microsoft Health, the Band’s corresponding software platform, is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone making the tracker itself cross-platform, too. The system faces challenges, of course. “Microsoft Band is clearly the most comprehensive device in a single device,” says Gownder, noting the presence of features that are less common in other bands, like GPS tracking and the ability to measure sun exposure. This opens the Band up to a huge audience (virtually all smartphone owners) rather than, in Apple’s case, limiting the product to devotees of its insular ecosystem. For Microsoft, this means a chance to introduce folks on other operating systems to its mobile platform by offering a taste of its hardware quality and a sense of the software experience.

And today, Microsoft is just one more company fighting for turf in a variety of markets: enterprise software, game consoles, search and, yes, personal computers. Unless things change, the first Apple Watch will not include GPS (it relies on the GPS in your phone) or a UV monitor, but it does offer 24-hour heart-rate detection. Two hundred dollars is on the high-end for fitness trackers: The Garmin Vivosmart is $170, the Samsung Gear Fit started at $200 but can be found for closer to $100, and Fitbit’s latest trackers range from $130 to $250. While the Band doesn’t have a smartwatch form factor, it does perform the full suite of notification features a smartwatch typically does by pairing with your smartphone over Bluetooth, which partially validates the higher price point.

Where Ballmer called the Linux open-source operating system a “malignant cancer,” Nadella proclaims, “Microsoft loves Linux.” All along, Nadella has said Microsoft needs to develop its own platform while playing well with others. Wall Street demands from Microsoft the kinds of hefty payouts older, slow-growth companies offer: Last year, Microsoft spent $4.9 billion on buybacks and $9.3 billion on dividends. But for those who came to know Microsoft not through Windows but the Xbox console and Halo franchise, the feelings range from indifferent to positive.

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