The wearables market is hotting up right now, entering a phase of massive growth as "smartwatch" and "fitness band" become terms recognised, and used, by everyday consumers.
Apple has the Apple Watch, set to be released in 2015 as an extension of the iPhone. Motorola has the Moto 360, a sleekly designed circular watch running Android Wear. LG has the clumsily named, but practical, G Watch R, Nike has the FuelBand, and Microsoft has the recently unveiled Microsoft Band, a $199 (around £125, AU$235) fitness band which comes with a set of new, and exciting, cloud services.
Previously, almost every manufacturer of fitness or smartwatch software – aside from Google's Android Wear – has been proprietary and locked into a single manufacturer, leading to a massive array of competing operating systems, all needing a specific device.
Microsoft has seen this problem and devised a solution, creating a cloud-based all-encompassing framework that links a myriad of different products into a single place which can be accessed by a consumer.
Just as Apple has done with HealthKit, the software that comes with the Microsoft Band, called Microsoft Health, syncs with various apps and wearables to create a centralised hub for all your health-related data. Unlike HealthKit, Microsoft Health works with a massive range of different health solutions and, most importantly, smartphone operating systems and hardware fitness bands. For the first time, there is a truly universal way to combine health data from different services. And it was created by Microsoft.
As Benedict Evans, an analyst looking at mobile working for the investment firm a16z, noted in his weekly newsletter, Microsoft has "gone for relevancy" over profit, opening up Office for iPad to all customers for free, pledging to bring Office to Android, and generally moving towards a reconnection with everyday customers who have forgotten what Microsoft has to offer.
While the Microsoft Band is no Apple Watch (and, in fairness to Microsoft, neither does it profess to be), for a first-generation piece of hardware it looks good and can only improve over time as consumer feedback is taken into account.
In terms of software, The Verge claimed that it is "zippy and smooth," offering a Windows Phone-style tiled interface, with the Band's 10 different sensors relaying information back to Microsoft Health for analysis later on. While some fitness tracking devices try and offer information on-the-go, the Band is meant to simply be left on your wrist, quietly relaying information and allowing the user to track their progress and, above all else, chart their health.