While the new Microsoft Band has triggered more excitement than I had expected, that excitement has also served to deemphasize the real news, which is Microsoft Health. This new health service sits alongside and is complementary to Microsoft's other health and fitness services. And these offerings are, collectively, among Microsoft's most misunderstood. Here's a quick guide.
Microsoft Health is a new platform, a cloud service that uses Azure-based machine learning technology to analyze data collected from wearable health and fitness devices—of which Microsoft Band is just the first—and then reports that analysis and raw tracking data back to users via a Microsoft Health mobile app on Android, iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Windows Phone.
Microsoft Health is not a small thing. It's extensible via various other services, of course, including HealthVault but also non-fitness data sources. But the big deal is that machine learning piece. This means that Microsoft Health will provide useful insights immediately—your resting heart rate over time, which is a true measure of your metabolic rate, for example—but will also get more impressive over time as you continue populating it with data and as its capabilities expand.
Some of this stuff is very forward-leaning, and because it can mix and match between fitness and non-fitness data, some impressive possibilities emerge. For example, over time, Microsoft Health may come to the understanding that your heart rate spikes before a regularly-scheduled weekly meeting with your boss. So it may recommend that you drink some water, or meditate, or whatever, before that meeting. The implications here are frankly exciting.
HealthVault is an online service you can use to store your personal and/or family health records and keep track of medications, health history, blood pressure, conditions and illnesses, allergies, fitness, lab results, x-rays, scans and other images, and the like. You can optionally share this information with your doctor or other health professionals, and because the service has open hooks, you can automatically populate the data with fitness devices and other services. If a doctor, hospital, lab or other medical facility you visit interoperates with HealthVault, you can opt in to allow them to automatically keep your record up to date as well.
So why are HealthVault and Microsoft Health separate services? Because they have to be, for legal reasons, but also because storing health information (HealthVault) and using a device to monitor your health and then an online service (Microsoft Health) to analyze trends are two very distinct things. But since both Microsoft Health and HealthVault are open, you can use both together, and integrate the data so that the tracking information from Microsoft Band populates Microsoft Heath and is shared with HealthVault.
MSN Health and Fitness
MSN Health and Fitness is an online service that can be accessed via the web or mobile apps for Windows and Windows Phone, and, soon, Android and iOS. It aggregates high quality health and fitness content from trusted sources—and presenting it in ways that make it enjoyable to read and actionable. You can access well-designed workouts, learn more about nutrition, look up your symptoms to find out what's wrong with you, and track your diet and activity, and then access that information from any device.
So why is MSN Health & Fitness separate from Microsoft Health and HealthVault. For obvious reasons: Mostly, this is a content-based service, basically an online magazine, and it is meant to keep you informed. You can also use it to track your diet and activity, yes, but that's because many people will access this service via a mobile app on a device that's with them all the time.
In the past, the mobile app versions of Health & Fitness would sync with HealtVault. Microsoft recently disabled this capability, most likely because of forthcoming integration with Microsoft Health. Stay tuned.
The one outlier in the group, Xbox Fitness is an app for Xbox One that lets you exercise in front of your TV as you might otherwise do with a workout DVD or TV show. It features famous trainers like Jillian Michaels, Tracy Anderson, and Shaun T, and uses the Kinect sensor to make sure you're in step. (It does require a Kinect.) And it can be pretty intense.
Hopefully, Xbox Fitness will be integrated with Microsoft Health in the future as well.