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The Microsoft Band: Not a Good Fit (Yet)

Microsoft last month entered the wearables market with the Microsoft Band, which, paired with the new Microsoft Health Web site and app for the wrist band, is designed to track your physical activities and bring some productivity features to your wrist.

The Microsoft Band, in my opinion, does a lot of interesting things, though it doesn't really excel at any of them at this point. Among the productivity features included are alerts that let you glance at the first sentence or two of a message, texts, Facebook posts, Facebook Messenger, phone calls, voicemails, schedules, stock prices and an alarm clock that vibrates gradually for deep sleepers who don't like to jump out of bed.

Then there's the health component that has a pedometer to track your steps, a monitor for runners as well as one to track general workouts. It also tracks your sleep including your average heart rate and how often you supposedly woke up. You can synchronize whatever physical activity it monitors with Microsoft Health, an app that runs on any iOS, Android and Windows Phone device. If you use it with Windows Phone, you get the added benefit of using Microsoft's Cortana, the digital assistant that responds to spoken commands. You can also look at reports on the Microsoft Health Web site.

My personal favorite: the Starbucks app, which presents the scan image of your account allowing for the barista to scan it when making a purchase. Most of them seeing it for the first time responded with awe, with one saying that "this is the wave of the future."

Though I've been skeptical  about wearables like this and others like it from Fitbit, Samsung, Garman, Nike, Sony, and dozens of other providers, it's clearly a growing market and it may very well be the wave of the future -- or at least a wave of the future. Market researcher Statistica forecasts that the market for these wearables will be close to $5.2 billion this year, which is more than double over last year. In 2015, sales of these gadgets will hit $7.1 billion and by 2018 it will be $12.6 billion.

Gartner last month reported that while smart wristbands are poised for growth, its latest survey shows at least half are considering smartwatches. It actually sees the smartwatch market growing from 18 million units this year to 21 million in 2015, while purchases of wristbands will drop from 20 billion to 17 billion. Certainly the release of the Apple Watch, despite its hefty starting price of $349, will likely fuel that market, though I already questioned how much demand we'll see for it.

I haven't tested other devices so it's hard to say how the Microsoft Band rates compared to them. But I find the notion of having information on my wrist more compelling than I had thought.  However, performance of my Microsoft Band is flaky. I've encountered synchronization problems that have required me to uninstall and reinstall the Microsoft Health app on my iPhone on a number of occasions. It has presented realistic heart rates when I'm at the gym and suddenly it would give numbers not believable. When I click on the e-mail button it often says I have nothing new and even when I can read them, the messages are cryptic and don't always indicate the sender.

I like that the Microsoft Band does synchronize with some other health apps, such as MyFitnessPal, which I use to track my meals these days. By importing that data, it provides more relevant info that I'd otherwise have to figure out and enter manually. The problem is, I don't believe I could have possibly burned 2,609 calories from a recent visit to the gym, though it would be nice if that was indeed the case.

That's why after spending several weeks with it, I can say I like the concept but it's not worth its $199 price tag unless money is no object to you. While I agree with my colleague Brien Posey that the Microsoft Band has some nice features, I think I'd wait for an improved version of the Microsoft Band and a richer Microsoft Health site before buying one of these (unless they become remarkably less expensive).

That stated, I hope Microsoft continues to enhance the Microsoft Band by adding more capacity and battery life to make it a more usable and comfortable device. If everyone had accurate readings of our physical activities, maybe it would lead to healthier lifestyles.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/15/2014 at 7:28 AM


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