Want: Microsoft Band

Microsoft’s first entry into the wearables market has my attention like no other.

My history with wearables started with the first-generation Jawbone Up, which hit the market in November 2011. I wrote about Jawbone’s fantastic response to a potentially disastrous engineering defect back in November 2012. Since my Jawbone Up failed, I observed the evolving market for wearable technology from the sidelines, waiting to see what devices would come out next. A short-lived love/hate relationship with Google Glass took place earlier this year. For a while, nothing.

Microsoft surprised tech journalists with the announcement of the Microsoft Band on October 29, 2014. With Band, Microsoft has developed a potential game-changer: Band goes beyond other wearables by offering a bevy of sensors and cross-platform compatibility on an open platform.

First, let’s take a quick look at the sensors on Microsoft Band:

  • Optical heart rate sensor
  • 3-axis accelerometer
  • Gyrometer
  • GPS
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Skin temperature sensor
  • UV sensor
  • Capacitive sensor
  • Galvanic skin response

A few notable ones jump out to this reader:

  1. Skin temperature sensor: might be useful for inferring increased metabolic activity following high-intensity exercise, which has traditionally been outside the domain of fitness monitors. Abnormal skin temperature readings in the presence of normal heart rate may indicate ailments or physical illness.
  2. UV sensor: Microsoft claims that this will help users know whether to apply sunscreen before heading out
  3. Galvanic skin response: might be useful for measuring stress and emotional state

The sensor array promises to acquire a wider range of data than any other wearable on the market today. Users will benefit from actionable insights when this data is combined with analysis on Microsoft Health. Microsoft suggests that analysis may reap insights such as:

  • Fitness performance relative to work schedule
  • Whether eating breakfast helps you run faster
  • If the number of meetings during the day impacts sleep quality.

I’m very excited to see how Microsoft will continue working with existing players in health and fitness. At launch, they have announced relationships with UP by Jawbone, MapMyFitness, (the venerable) MyFitnessPal, and Runkeeper.

Unfortunately, iOS and Android users are being left out in the cold on some of Band’s smart features. Band will provide Microsoft Phone users with access to notifications from their smartphones, even integrating with Cortana. I hope that Microsoft can make a push to broaden support for Band’s productivity features on competing platforms, but it’s possible that this may never happen.

Wearable technology has been at a nascent state for the past few years, and I’m pleased that Microsoft is pushing the field forward. At the very least, Microsoft Band will put pressure on its competitors to develop more sensor-laden devices. At best, it could be one of Microsoft’s most exciting hardware products in a long time.

I have already reached out to a friend of mine who is working at Microsoft to see about getting Band for myself. As a health-conscious, data-loving, technophile, Band is too interesting for me to resist. I just hope it’s as good as it sounds on paper 🙂

Microsoft Band retails for $199, and is available to purchase now through Microsoft Store.com or your nearest Microsoft Store. Sizing chart is available online.