Is Microsoft's fitness wristlet as popular as it seems?
I'm one of those that took advantage of an upcoming restocking of the Microsoft Band last week. After ordering on Friday amid a flurry of others doing the same, my order status changed to "backordered" over the weekend. Microsoft has promised that the Band will start shipping by March 17, and some have assured me that the "backordered" status is nothing to worry about – that the Band will ship as promised.
However, also over the weekend, Windows Central is reporting that Microsoft will be moving beyond its own online and local stores and will start stocking Best Buy shelves sometime this month. To most that would like to get their hands on this device, this should be good news. For me, I'm worried that somehow the Band will show up in Best Buy inventory before my order ships. Microsoft already did a disservice to many last week. Many of those that had signed up to be notified when the online store was restocked never received an email. Two emails were sent out last week. One was an early access email, giving randomly chosen individuals about 4 hours to order before a second email delivered to everyone else – and even then, not everyone who signed up found an email in their inbox.
I can tell you now, that if the Microsoft Band launches at Best Buy before my order ships, I'll be cancelling my order and heading straight to my local Best Buy store.
Obviously, Best Buy stores are more plentiful than Microsoft's sparsely positioned locations. But, this also means that Microsoft has to somehow get better at fulfilling stocking requests. As I mentioned last week and according to a Microsoft Store employee there's no regular stock shipment schedule or method. The Bands show up out-of-the-blue and the different sizes arrive in random quantities. Microsoft will have to fix this if Best Buy is to be involved in proliferating the Bands. And, maybe that's part of the idea, allowing a distributor with experience in such things to help mold a consistent plan.
I noted last week on Twitter that I believe Microsoft has another opportunity with the Band that the company may not realize yet. With Windows Phone market share dropping and many starting to hint at giving up on the platform, Microsoft would do well to start bundling the Band with all Lumia smartphone models. If the Band is truly as popular as campaigns and social media buzz would have us believe, Microsoft could quickly create new interest in Windows Phone by promoting a fitness bundle. Obviously, the Band also works with Android and iOS platforms, but the best experience is still Windows Phone.
I'm excited to finally get my Band. I held off for quite a while, thinking I'd wait until version 2 released, but the last round of updates sold me on it. The Band is still missing one important thing, in my opinion, and that is on-board storage for MP3s. When I run (and I run a lot), I listen to personally designed playlists. I mix them up quite a bit, too, so as to make my runs less boring – so that means I need significant storage capacity unless I want to be managing songs often. The idea of a wristband for fitness is to remove the dependence of the smartphone connection. Without on-board storage for MP3s, I'll still need to carry my smartphone. I'm hopeful that storage may deliver in version 2.
Apple is set to announce its stylish Watch later today, which will then go on sale in April. The Apple Watch will cost around $350, while the Microsoft Band will remain around $200. I'm interested to hear what Apple's contribution will actually offer, as it seems we've been inundated with reports on its style and nothing on its substance. The Band is a chunky wristlet while the Apple Watch looks like a svelte fashion accessory, but it's going to boil down to functionality for me. I suspect Tim Cook will address that today and wow us with some crazy new concepts. Apple is famous for that.
We've yet to hear what Apple's distribution plans for the Watch will be, but rumors of the Band coming to Best Buy may be Microsoft's way of minimizing Apple's impact. And, if it does happen this month, like the rumors also suggest, that will give Microsoft a full month to ride the Apple wave. There's no question that the Apple Watch will sell millions of units and be one of the most successful smartwatch entries to date. It's Apple, after all.
Microsoft is not the only company that could be hurt by a successful Apple Watch launch. For example, Samsung, the company that has already released no less than six smartwatches in a year and half, has decided to pause production of new models. Samsung's entry into the wearables market is reported to be unsuccessful so far, with sales not finding the target. Samsung's executive vice president, Young-hee Lee announced during MWC 2015 that the company is putting on the brakes. I suspect Samsung, and many other smartwatch makers will be watching the Apple launch thoughtfully. If other product launches are any indication, Apple can energize consumers toward a technology like no other. Many companies watch Apple launches with interest and use them as planning sessions for new product launches of their own. Apple is yet to create an industry, but the company is highly proficient in jumpstarting many of them, with competitors riding the Apple wave to revenue.
So, what can Microsoft do to combat a new smartwatch entry and ride the Apple wave? Best Buy availability is a good step, but like I said, bundle the Band with Windows Phone. Price is a factor, too, but if Apple can show significant feature value in a $350 smartwatch the $150 difference may be a moot point.