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Microsoft enters into wearables market

Published on 30/10/14 at 08:47am
Microsoft Band image
Microsoft Band

Microsoft has launched a new wearable heath tracking device as it looks to battle with Apple and Samsung in an undeveloped but potentially lucrative market.

The device that can connect to new smartphones is known simply as ‘Microsoft Band’ and can operate for two days on a single charge. It has 10 sensors that can track heart rate, calories, stress and even a person’s sun exposure. It costs $199 and goes on sales in the US today.

It marks Microsoft’s latest push into digital health after its largely forgettable medical record initiative ‘HealthVault’ in 2007.

“This is just the beginning of a multi-year vision for Microsoft in the health & fitness and wearables category,” the company says. “We want to enter this space in a deliberate and measured fashion and as such are launching first in the United States.”

The device is also powered by Microsoft Health, a new service that allows users to see the data gathered from the fitness devices and apps on their phones.  

Microsoft recently bought Nokia – a company which was once the biggest seller of mobile phones in the world in the early 2000s until it was left behind by the new smartphone market dominated by Samsung, HTC and Apple. 

But as its new Windows Phone (powered by Nokia) has negligible market share, Microsoft says it will not just work with one mobile operating system and so the Band and its companion Health app will be cross-platform.

The company has already announced that it will be working with UP by Jawbone, MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper, with more likely to follow. It can also operate across Android and Apple phones.

Microsoft will also allow these data to be stored in the cloud. It says in a blog post: “We see an opportunity to bring these devices and services together to allow you to combine the information they collect and use the power of the cloud to turn that data in to something more valuable.”

Rivals

The firm says that Microsoft Health “makes tracking personal fitness easier, more insightful, and more holistic”. But Microsoft, as has happened so often since its domination of the 1990s tech market has waned, is not the first to market this idea.

Its fierce rival Apple has been working on Apple Health for two years and in September, after a number of glitches with its system, launched the service that integrates fitness and health apps into one database on its iPhone.

Apple is a little more behind in the wearables department however, as its Apple Watch which can also track health and fitness (but must be linked with newer versions of the iPhone) will not be launched until next year. Apple says it will cost $349 (£215).

Nike got ahead of both of these tech giants with the 2012 launch of its ‘FuelBand’ – but this April the company announced it was exiting the fitness tracker hardware market and fired most of the staff working on this product.

Samsung has also launched its Galaxy Gear Fit which works on Samsung’s SAMI platform in September last year. The Korean firm has in addition launched Simband, a new device prototype that can be used to measure body temperature, blood oxygen levels, motion and other health metrics on a continuous basis.

Nike may have assumed it would not be strong enough to compete in what will soon become a fierce market: with Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and Google/Android all set to dominate the wearables sector over the coming years.

But rumours have since surfaced that Nike could indeed work alongside one of these firms – most likely Apple – on developing its software in the near future. Such a partnership could well be on the radar for big pharma should the tech take off. 

Analysts believe that Microsoft has a lot to do: “Microsoft is targeting the higher tiers of the fitness band market – it’s going to have to make a big marketing investment to raise awareness with US consumers,” says Ben Wood from CCS Insight, talking to the BBC.

“The number of fitness bands that have been launched this year is overwhelming - personally I’m already testing two on each wrist and I’m rapidly running out of places to wear them. It must be a daunting prospect for consumers trying to decide which one to buy.”

Ben Adams 

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