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Microsoft enters smartwatch market with US$200 Microsoft Band

Mark Hachman | Oct. 31, 2014
The Microsoft Band smartwatch is designed both for life at and outside of work, with run tracking, sleep monitoring, plus a customized Intelligence Engine that can modify and suggest workouts -- as well as email, texts, and even Cortana.

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Wednesday night Microsoft confirmed what we all expected--that it too, has a smartwatch that it wants you to wear 24/7, for work and for play, called the Microsoft Band.

Looking as much like a hospital bracelet as anything else, the US$200 Microsoft Band features a rectangular, 320 x106 TFT display that hovers over your wrist. Sensors--an optical heart monitor, GPS, UV sensor, and more--track your activity while on the move and at rest, and send the data to what Microsoft calls the Intelligence Engine, aka Cortana's little brother. The Band is then designed to work with third-party apps developers, including MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Starbucks--which has developed a "payment" app of sorts.

In all, Microsoft is calling the Band its flagship device of Microsoft Health, a reboot of sorts for a health initiative it tried to establish with products like HealthVault. If you choose, you can store the data the Band collects in HealthVault and share it with your medical provider. Otherwise, Microsoft sees the Band, and Health, as a new way to collect data about you that it can use to improve your day.

How? Initially, Microsoft sees the Intelligence Engine as supplying suggestions on how long to recover from a workout, for example. Over time, the Engine will apparently be able to comment on whether eating breakfast will make you run faster and more effectively. It's unclear how the Engine will feed data into Cortana, but she's there: you'll be able to ask Microsoft's digital assistant to add calendar entries, for example, or dictate a text. And, of course, the Band will notify you about upcoming appointments, as your Windows Phone already does.

"Imagine you've set the goal that you want to get fit and lose weight as part of your exercise routine," Zulfi Alam, general manager  of Personal Devices at Microsoft, said in a statement. "Based on your burn rate and exercise over one week, we will soon be able to auto-suggest a customized workout plan for you. As you follow that plan -- or if you don't follow the plan -- our technology will continue to adjust to give you the best outward-looking plan, like a real coach would do."

Why this matters:  A number of fitness bands already track your activity, even sleep. Fewer still, though, deliver messages calendar invites. And, barely any smartwatches beyond the Big Three--Apple, Google, and now Microsoft--provide any intelligence that helps you anticipate and plan your day. Microsoft's Intelligence Engine and Cortana appear to be the pair of intelligent technologies that Microsoft hopes will inspire you to plunk down $200, rather than opt for the aesthetics of the Apple Watch or Google's ecosystem.

 

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