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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.

Open to all

But Band isn't Microsoft exclusive: apps will allow it to work with Apple iPhones (the iPhone 4S, 5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus running iOS 7.1 or later), Android (4.3 or 4.4) and Windows Phones (with the Windows Phone 8.1 Update). Those apps leaked out earlier on Wednesday.

Microsoft promises that the Band will last about 48 hours on a single charge, with functions like GPS lowering that somewhat. It will charge in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, it's not waterproof, so swimmers will have to look elsewhere. But it will repel "splashes" and will work from 14 degrees up through 104 degrees.

Specifically, the Band will include an optical heart rate sensor, a 3-axis gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, an ultraviolet light sensor, a galvanic skin sensor, and a capacitive sensor. The watch will monitor your heart rate 24/7, and assess whether you've been sleeping well.

The band will record data without a data connection, then beam it your phone via Bluetooth. It won't make calls, but it will flash messages, emails, and even Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. And, of course, there's a microphone, to trigger Cortana. There's no speaker, however, so Cortana's information will be passed along via the screen.

For that matter, Microsoft seems to want you to wear the Band with the screen hovering over the inside of your wrist. Whether that's a limitation of the sensors or a design aesthetic remains to be seen.

Naturally, Microsoft hopes that the Band itself will become a platform, with third-party app developers coming together to add to its own capabilities. In addition to the Starbucks app--you can tell the Band to display your Starbucks card info, which can be scanned--Microsoft has struck partnerships with MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, RunKeeper, and Gold's Gym. Gold's even will construct custom workouts, which Microsoft hopes the Band will be able to adapt as it learns more about you. 

All in all, you'll find a lot of crossover between the features the Band offers and what other fitness bands and smartwatches offer. But the $200 Band is also available now, in three different sizes to fit different wrists. Microsoft also seems to be taking a page from Google in that it's promising that the Band will improve over time, specifically as it learns more about you.

With the Microsoft Band, Microsoft appears to want to play seriously in the health market, while also providing a tool for your workday. It remains to be seen, however, whether Microsoft will leverage its other technologies--its Xbox game console comes to mind--to enhance its capabilities further. On paper, however, the Band certainly appears to be in the lead pack of smartwatches.

 

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