Steve Job’s world-famous quote “One more thing” would have been more fitting coming from Satya Nadella, than at its actual resurrection at the Apple Watch keynote.
Thursday, Microsoft revealed a brand new wearable – the “Microsoft Band”. While the Band can be likened to devices such as the Jawbone UP or the FitBit Charge, what was announced puts it much closer to the Apple Watch in terms of functionality. The device is worn like a wristwatch and has a horizontal screen (across the wrist) and thus is somewhat limited in screen space, especially compared to what is probably its biggest rival – the Apple Watch. However, it comes packed with a multitude of features, including a GPS and a heart-rate monitor, as well as more obscure functions such as a UV intensity warning system (preventing sunburn) and personal workout assistant – keeping track of sets and reps. In addition, it has two real trump cards versus the Apple Watch – namely it works phone-free – i.e. it doesn’t require constant pairing with a phone to function, and it is significantly cheaper than even the entry-level Apple Watch ($200 vs $350).
The real eye-opener, however, is that Microsoft has made the Band cross-platform allowing it to connect with both iOS and Android phones, opening up its potential market. Arguably, adoption would have been abysmal had the band been locked into Microsoft’s ecosystem – as evidenced by that fact that even for the Apple Watch technologists are predicting adoption rates that are only a fraction of the entire Apple ecosystem. With Microsoft’s current smartphone market-share, a Microsoft-only Band would have had trouble breaking even on development costs, let alone generating any viable revenue. This open strategy is quickly becoming a hallmark of the new Microsoft – slim and fit – far removed from the old days of “embrace, extend, and extinguish”.
Besides making the consumer-facing side cross-platform, Microsoft has also made the backend – “Microsoft Health”, open to work with an array of wearable devices, including the Jawbone UP, as well as smartphone applications including RunKeeper and MapMyRun. Apple’s own HealthKit takes a similar approach – albeit with strong restrictions on Apps hoping to use the API. For instance, it stores all of it’s health data offline (on the device), and strictly forbids user sharing between devices or uploading raw data to iCloud – a feature which Microsoft Health heavily promotes with their cloud-based Microsoft HealthVault. Healthkit also has a strong head start in a race to bring such data to medical professionals and hospitals – namely they’ve confirmed they are currently working the Epic – a company specializing in software and data management for hospitals. Whether Microsoft will follow suite and partner with a health record/data company is to be seen. Either way, their strategy of opening up to all ecosystems may very well prove successful, especially as most of its competitors are platform-locked, hoping to steal an entire share of the market for themselves – a risky move considering consumers seem to have not yet decided what they want in a wearable.