In a move that mirrors the ham-handed launch of the Zune several years back, Microsoft on Wednesday night announced its new fitness and exercise tracking band, called Microsoft Band. The device will be accompanied by a Microsoft Health service, will work with popular smart phones platforms plus its own Windows Phone system, and costs just $200. The big news? It's available right now.
That said, if you do want a Microsoft Band sight unseen and explanation unread, rush over to the Microsoft Store right now and order one: The firm says that initial supplies will be limited.
So why would Microsoft announce a major new product that hits the market ahead of competitors like Apple Watch and Fitbit Charge/Surge on a Wednesday night without pre-briefing or even alerting the press? That's an excellent question, as is why coffee retailer Starbucks is listed among Microsoft's new health and fitness partners alongside more credible entries like Gold's Gym, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper. It's the type of marketing genius that launched Zune, but applied to a new device.
That said, Microsoft's new Band has some interesting advantages over the competition. It's here now, for starters, whereas those Apple and Fitbit entries won't launch until after the holidays. It's cross-platform, where Apple and Android watches and bands are companion devices that require specific smart phones. And it's more independent than other bands and watches: Thanks to built-in GPS, it won't require a phone to track walking or running distance.
The Microsoft Band, while bulky looking, also includes a built-in heart rate monitor, which is very useful, though we'll have to see how accurate it is in the real world. If only Microsoft had allowed reviewers to, you know, review it.
The Band also has one other advantage over the competition: Its $200 price tag is $50 less than the GPS-enabled Fitbit Surge and $150 less than the least-expensive Apple Watch.
Will any of these advantages help Microsoft Band succeed? Based on how this is being marketed—i.e. poorly—I'm thinking it's more Zune than Xbox right now. But I'll have a more in-depth write-up about the device on the SuperSite for Windows later today and will of course actually review Microsoft Band as soon as possible.