Since Microsoft shipped the Microsoft Band last fall, the smartband has faded from public attention. Microsoft's first major update to the Band and its complementary Microsoft Health app adds a boatload of new features, however.
The Band is equal parts fitness band and personal organizer, and the new updates address both aspects of the watch. From a productivity standpoint, the Band now includes the ability to dictate responses to texts via the Cortana voice recognition built into the Band, together with some improvements on how it handles incoming messages. For after work, the Band now includes cycling support, complete with guided workouts. After you've completed your workout, you can check out how you've done in a new Web-based dashboard.
Microsoft's Band is the company's answer to the "quantified health" craze that's driven wearables like the Basis band, Fitbit, and a number of others. The $200 Band can stand on its own, but it works best when paired with a phone--and with apps available for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, you have your choice of platforms. The Band measures your sleep patterns, the number of steps you've taken, and how you've exercised in predetermined ways, including going out for a run.
Those with flat feet will be thrilled that the Band now includes a Cycling tile, where users can now tell the Band that they're going for a ride. GPS will track your ride (as well as any changes in your elevation), and Band's built-in intelligence will analyze your speed and the recovery time that you'll need. And if you live in the frozen Northeast, several spin workouts have been added to the Guided Workouts feature, too.
Microsoft already shows you some of the insights it culls as part of Microsoft Health, its associated app. But the company has added a new Web dashboard, which it says will offer more analysis the more you use your Band. (So far, the app appears to provide a nice, comprehensive summary of your recent activities, but nothing further.)
Talk to the Band
Microsoft has beefed up the Band's voice-recognition capabilities as well. The Band already allows you to ask Cortana questions using the Band's built-in mic, set a reminder, or do something similar. The Band also buzzes to alert you of incoming email and texts, and allows you to manually scroll through the first few words.
With the update, a new Quick Read function scrolls through notifications like texts and emails, rendering them in a large, readable font and auto-scrolling them automatically. And if you'd like to type a response, you can do so with a new virtual keyboard that uses prediction algorithms to guess at what you're typing..
Users also have the option to orally dictate replies to a text using Cortana, but, apparently, not author new texts or email. That's a shortfall that we hope is eventually solved. Still, at least it's something.
Finally, Microsoft added SDK support, so that developers can now create Band apps. Hopefully the smartwatch will receive a more enthusiastic response from developers compared to Windows Phone.
Why this matters: Microsoft's Band has an enormous amount of potential. Still, no one was quite clear how significant the product was to Microsoft. The update confirms that the Band is still part of Microsoft's game plan.