The hot new personal electronic device? An iPhone, a Galaxy something, a successor the Lumia 1020 (I wish!)? Naw, those are all so passé. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since Wednesday night you know I’m talking about the Microsoft Band. The wearable fitness/Smartwatch combo that took the world by surprise this week and is already a huge success. Success has many measures. Media buzz is a good start, positive Reviews by respected Sites another, and the Band has received all of these. But the piece de resistance is – the early sell out.
I grabbed my Band within a few minutes of the initial sale minute – 12:01 am last Thursday. If you wanted to order one on line and didn’t do so within 12 hours, well you’re probably on a wait list now. And lets keep in mind that this is a product with essentially no advance advertising or press, no leaks, a completely surprising launch at midnight in the middle of the week. So its been suggested that Microsoft wanted to sell out, that they did so to create a artificial perception of demand. I don’t buy that for many reasons. Some of which have been explored by Daniel Rubino over on Windows Central. I agree with his analysis, but I think there is more to it. Much more.
Remember Nexus? Google’s own Android phone, and the storm of controversy when it was well received but then Google initially said that they didn’t intend to extend the line as it was, for them, a tool with which to learn from their Customers? Well I see Microsoft as using the Band for the same strategy. Microsoft is in much the same position – they want to see other companies pick up their Health platform and run with it, but they need to show them that there is a market out there for it, and even then they have to attract those other OEMs to their platform by offering something the other platforms don’t.
Enter The Band! They need to have some very good analytics on what customers actually want in order to reduce risk for OEMs that might adopt their platform. In fact, that is a huge selling point to potential partners as it provides them with facts about what their potential customers will want and how they want it, greatly lowering their risk of a product flop. To offer that information, they first need to collect it. I think they are planning on doing so the same way Google did – by building the Band to collect the information that their OEMs will want. Also, lets be clear about one thing, Microsoft is not just interested on seeing Microsoft Health used by Windows Phone customers. They want EVERYONE to use it, regardless of their phone platform. That’s why Microsoft Health is agnostic, with Microsoft launching Apps simultaneously on Windows Phone, iOS and Android.
If Microsoft can ramp up production to meet a demand from users of all three major mobile platforms, they will sell a lot of Bands, and make it very clear to other fitness band makers that Microsoft has raised the bar and they’re going to have to either beat ’em, or join ’em. And with the great integration of the Band with Windows Phone it’s not going to be worth the effort of anyone hoping to get to that market segment to try and beat them.
We haven’t really heard much yet about how well the Band integrates with Android and iOS, although activities on various Forums suggests it doesn’t talk to Siri. Not surprising as Apple is not noted for encouraging people to use Microsoft products with their own. We should hear a lot more about this in the next few weeks since most of the on-line orders will not be delivered until this coming Monday (Microsoft’s “2 Day Express Delivery” turned out to be UPS 2 Business Days Ground, which is neither ‘express’ nor ‘2 day’ delivery, something Microsoft should be ashamed of).
If iOS and Android users get a Cortana-less duplicate for the Windows Phone experience with the Band, I still think they will be very happy, all the more reason for OEMs to be attracted to Microsoft Health-based devices.
So, the Band is already a success, but it’s real value to Microsoft lies in the days ahead. Wondering why Microsoft packed an incredible 10 Sensors into the Band? Well they are offering to license any and all of them to OEMs. Think about that for a minute. Essentially, if you want to make a kick-ass fitness band with or without Smartwatch capability, you don’t have to design the sensor hardware, program support, or the cross-platform App to make use of all the data it will generate. Even the analytics can be bought from Microsoft. All you have to do is decide what market segment to go after, design the Band around Microsoft’s sensors, and go! I expect this will be an irresistible opportunity for many OEMs, particularly those in Asia which are often reluctant to invest in creating new technology from scratch. For once, they won’t have to ‘copy’ someone, just license the technology and get to market asap.
I think we will see the impact of the Band/Microsoft Health duo over the next 12 months in the form of a swarm of new entrants into the Fitness/Smartwatch arena, similar to the way that Microsoft licensing Windows Phone 8.x for free to OEMs has produced a swarm of new devices and OEMs with Windows phones in development.
If you’d asked anyone last Wednesday what OS those devices would be integrating with your answer would have had to be Android.
Not now. There’s a New Sheriff in town, Partner!