Microsoft's foray into the wearables market with its Microsoft Band device has been generally received with mixed reviews. With Microsoft owning approximately 8% of the busy smartphone marketplace, moving into this new market is a risk. On Feb. 23, 2015, Microsoft released an update to the Band that included not only feature set changes, but also the all-important SDK, which will allow third-party developers to build on to the device. The question is, can Microsoft get enough interest from the app market to entice software developers to write apps for the Band?
The choice is now in the hands of device-level app makers, such as the Polar heart-rate monitor or Adidas MiCoach, to decide if they will make the investment and customize their applications. While the SDK will provide the links into the Band, it is unknown what level of effort will be required to achieve complete compatibility.
To me, this is a make-it or break-it point for the gadget. In order to achieve long-term success, Microsoft must be able to provide features unknown in the space currently. This crowded market, made popular by the FitBit, has made the simple act of tracking steps taken, floors climbed and other information on your pace and speed popular once again.
The delta for those reliant on the device for information in the gym is that the functionality only goes so far. As someone who has both a Windows Phone and iPhone, neither gives me the data I need on the device locally; therefore, I must have an app and separate heart rate monitor to track my activity. In fact, I had a FitBit for a period of time and felt quite limited in its functionality; namely because the two sports I take part in most often (hockey and cycling) couldn't be tracked by the FitBit. I would have loved to track the effort I had expended during a game or indoor cycling class, but because there was no “step” to track, the FitBit was useless.
In the Microsoft Band update (Microsoft says they will release Band updates monthly) Microsoft provided a dedicated cycling tile, which is an excellent step (no pun intended) toward those who have experienced limitations with their current cycling gadgets. To that end, the Band will now include some analytics that will show speed analysis and altitude changes. I'm still waiting to hear how Microsoft will make the Band attractive to indoor cycling enthusiasts such as myself. Perhaps this is the barrier to market that they can accomplish first in order to win our hearts. Either way, I'll be watching carefully to see how, and who, adopts it going forward. As my favorite indoor cycling instructor says, ride on!