News Microsoft gadget focuses on fitness, boasts other bells and whistles

31 Oct 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

Microsoft Band Rumors: Product Posted on Their Site Following App Store Leaks.

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.Microsoft has launched its highly anticipated wearable fitness tracker, whose app, Microsoft Health, is compatible with many platforms and refers to “actionable insights” to describe the feedback it gives upon processing activity data.WASHINGTON: Microsoft Corp launched a device called “Microsoft Band” that will allow users to monitor their fitness and exercise regime, marking the world’s largest software company’s debut into the wearable technology market.

The chatter about an upcoming Microsoft (MSFT) wearable started in the summer, with rumors buzzing that it wasn’t a smartwatch but rather a smartband.Although Apple unveiled its first smartwatch called Apple Watch last month at its high-profile media event, we are still months away from product launch. The US$199.99 (RM656) Microsoft Band is a wearable you can talk to, thanks to Cortana software unique to Windows, and it will organise your days by setting your alarm, for example, on voice command.

As it turns out, Microsoft’s wearable is a fitness band, and a pretty nifty one at that, available in the United States as of Oct. 29 for $199 in the vendor’s stores and online. Not surprisingly, Microsoft is now among the companies eager — and apparently ready — to cut into Apple’s tangible momentum before Apple Watch rolls out. 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.

The app can work with a variety of devices in addition to the Microsoft Band, which tracks heart rate, steps, sleep quality and calories burned and provides email previews and calendar alerts. Further details about its compatibility revealed that while the “leaked documentation” failed to mention which particular mobile platforms it can work along with, similar apps for the wearable tech went live on the iOS App Store as well as on Google Play. Compared to the fanfare accompanying Apple’s (AAPL) Watch or some other fitness devices, the Band’s debut was comparatively mute, with Microsoft only confirming that it went on sale “in limited quantities” soon after Windows Central found sync apps in the Android, Mac and Microsoft stores for the device.

According to Re/Code, Microsoft is “leaning on the fact that it works with all the major mobile ecosystems as a key selling point.” That fact, Microsoft believes, will go a long way to score an impressive market share for the company in wearables. “We are as open as you get,” Matt Barlow, who heads marketing for new devices, is quoted in the report. “We are iOS, we are Android and we are Windows Phone.” 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. Guided workouts designed by experts are preloaded and the device allows users to map their jogging and hiking routes with GPS Run Mapping capabilities. The publication also said that because the apps from mentioned stores consistently referred to the device as “Microsoft Band,” then it is safe to assume that this could be its official name. “The company also notes that–if customers want to– Microsoft Health can combine work and personal data and gather insights such as how a big meeting with the boss affects that night’s sleep,” the site went on to say.

Despite weeks of keeping the details on the down-low amidst industry buzz about the impending release, Microsoft saw its fitness band leaked at the last minute before launching Thursday. 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. In addition, the Band can display notifications from a user’s mobile phone on its color touchscreen, take notes and make a reminder list with Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant. 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.

The information coming from fitness trackers today, he says, is still oversimplified. “They only begin the journey in terms of telling people what to do with the data,” he says. “Like, if you haven’t taken your 10,000 steps yet, then ‘Oh, you better take some more steps.’” Microsoft Health, on the other hand, aims to track a more complete picture of a user’s health and fitness activities and then deeply analyze it. 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. 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.

Plus, users don’t have to take their smartphones with them to their workout because the Band’s baked-in GPS enables it to work without a mobile tether. 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.

According to an Engadget report, Microsoft’s plan with the Health service is to attract other vendors, such as Samsung and Pebble, to port their devices to the Health platform. 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. Other features in the works are the ability to share data from the HealthVault if the user chooses to, and licensing the 10-sensor setup to other companies for their own devices, the report said. Microsoft Health, the Band’s corresponding software platform, is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone making the tracker itself cross-platform, too.

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. But the flip side is feature-itis, and as is true in so many other cases, Microsoft must perform a balancing act. “You don’t want to be proactively spammed by your wrist,” Gownder says. “But at the same time, you don’t want to have to work too hard to get insights.” 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.

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