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. The company’s first wearable piggybacks off of the style and functions we’re already familiar with in today’s activity trackers. 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.
First, and most importantly,the wristband is not a watch replacement. It’s designed to be worn 24-hours a day on your less dominant hand. It can track your activity and sleep patterns, and if you have a favorite watch, it wouldn’t be weird to wear it on your other wrist.
This is a vastly different approach than Apple’s. Indeed, the Apple Watch is designed to replace the watch already on your wrist. 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. It’s a fashion item.
Microsoft’s Band is, at its heart, a generic fitness band.
But more importantly, the Microsoft Band is cross-platform. This is huge as it’s something Apple can’t, and will not, do. 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. It could even compel users to dive deeper into the Windows Phone realm. And while Windows Phone is a moderate success abroad, in the U.S., its marketshare is still paltry.
The Band also has some interesting features. More and more people want a wearable to perform heart-rate tracking; It does that. For pale folks like me, the inclusion of a UV monitor for getting a pulse on the day’s UV index is useful. It also includes GPS for those who want to track their run routes without having to strap on a wearable and tote a smartphone. The Band is also designed to get multi-day battery life, depending on how much you use some of these other battery-intensive features like GPS. Another cool feature: Guided workouts, which should offer ways to optimize your workout right on your wrist. And Windows Phone users also get access to Cortana through the band.
Unless things change, the first Apple Watch will not include GPS (it relies on theGPS in your phone) or a UV monitor, but it does offer 24-hour heart-rate detection.
Lastly, while a $200 price tag isn’t cheap, it’s a more affordable price point than Apple’s watch, which starts at $350 and goes up from there. 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. The inclusion of GPS also makes it pricier than something like aJawbone Up.
While the Microsoft Band still has to compete against all those other fitness trackers on features, styling, and price point, Microsoft’s wearable is taking a completely different approach than Apple in the space. And that’s a smart thing.
Written by Christina Bonnington on October 31, 2014 for Wired