Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) unveiled an activity-tracking wristband and related Internet-based service that can track and analyze health, fitness and sleep data, jumping into the crowded wearable-computer market.
The $199 Microsoft Band, on sale today, works with the company’s free Health application, which uses machine learning to interpret data and can run on its Windows system, Apple Inc.’s iOS mobile software and Google Inc.’s Android, said Yusuf Mehdi, vice president of devices and studios. Starting in January, the app will work with other devices, including Apple and Android phones and smartwatches.
Microsoft is entering the burgeoning market for connected wearable devices — now dominated by smaller companies like Fitbit Inc. — at the same time as Apple prepares to debut its own smartwatch. Microsoft’s band and the cloud-based app play to an area that Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella sees as a strength of Microsoft’s: using advanced algorithms and data-analysis tools to tie information together and draw insights.
“All these devices are great in their own right, but they are all their own individual islands,” Mehdi said. “We think there is another chapter where you as an individual can have access to all the data you get from whatever set of devices you use.”
The band and app will track statistics such as how much deep sleep a user gets, whether calories burned are from fat or carbohydrates, and suggested recovery time from a particular type of exercise. It can tell a person if caffeine helps a workout or whether alcohol affects his or her sleep. It comes pre-loaded with workouts from Gold’s Gym, as well as programs from Shape and Men’s Fitness magazines, and works with apps from RunKeeper, MapMyFitness and Jawbone.
Worldwide, wearable-device shipments are projected to jump to about 113 million in 2018 from 6 million last year, said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC. Microsoft’s device and app stand out for their information-analysis capabilities, he said.
“The real value in this is really with Microsoft Health,” Llamas said. “One thing health and fitness trackers do incredibly well today is tell you about your past, but you would be hard-pressed to find devices that do a decent job of giving you actionable information.”
Microsoft Band, which includes 10 sensors such as a GPS, can also send notifications from a user’s Windows Phone and lets consumers automatically pay for Starbucks Corp. beverages. The device includes Microsoft’s Cortana voice-controlled personal assistant, as well as e-mail, weather, stock prices and access to Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc.
In the future, Microsoft will let users choose to link the app and band to Office programs, reminders and calendar data, which could track how much someone exercises while traveling or how well a person sleeps in a week with a lot of meetings, said Zulfi Alam, Microsoft’s general manager of personal devices.
Microsoft plans to initially make the band available in limited quantities online and at its own stores in the U.S. because the company is planning to gauge demand and adjust the product according to feedback, Mehdi said.
Llamas notes the device costs more than some other fitness bands. Fitbit’s Charge activity tracker, for example, costs $130. He said Microsoft Band will also be compared with Apple Watch, which goes on sale early next year starting at $349.
“As eager as I am, Microsoft will have to beat the drum very loudly to move significant numbers,” Llamas said.