Microsoft Band gets new capabilities in preparation for Apple Watch launch

microsoft-bandTime is ticking and Apple is about to launch its hot new Apple Watch that’s been available for pre-order for a couple of weeks now. This has enticed Microsoft to push its own wearable device, Microsoft Band, and associated service Microsoft Health to new levels as competition in this space is about to get very hot.

Today Microsoft has announced a large software update for its fitness tracker and accompanying online services. As part of this update, Microsoft Band will be able to integrate with third-party cycling apps such as MapMyRide and Strava which will allow cyclists to compare their ride data with others and share routes. This feature is expected to roll out this Thursday, April 23rd.

“Customers want even more integration with additional third party fitness partners,” says Matt Barlow, a Microsoft general manager, in a statement. “We know they have existing relationships with other apps, services and devices outside of Microsoft Health and Microsoft Band, and they’re looking for new ways to integrate their data, ensuring it will all live and work together in one single spot.”

Microsoft Health smartphone app will also be available to those who don’t currently own a Microsoft Band fitness tracker, Microsoft said. By connecting to native phone sensors, Microsoft Health will be able to function, although in a more limited capacity, on Android phones, iPhones as well as Windows Phones. This exciting new capability will be available in the coming weeks as Microsoft looks to broaden the overall Microsoft Health platform and make it available to a wider audience.

Microsoft Health Web Dashboard service is getting some new features as well. The update, scheduled for April 27th will allow users to compare their exercise stats with others of similar height and weight. The update will also enable tracking and processing of additional data such as sleep recovery, fitness progress, oxygen volume used during exercise, and detailed historical stats for advanced analysis of run and workout data over time.

Source: GeekWire

Microsoft pushes firmware update to Microsoft Band but doesn't provide details on changes

microsoft band update1Microsoft has finally come along and started updating the Microsoft Band.  It’s becoming a much better product and one that feels fresh again with the latest update we’ve seen which was a major improvement that included an amazing implementation of a virtual keyboard and a quick reply option via Cortana and much more.

Now if only Microsoft can get actual stock of the product and provide us with detail on whether the Band will ever be released outside the US. Sadly, with the way things are going it looks as if version 2.0 will be the one to see a worldwide launch.

Back to the good news – the software giant has pushed out a firmware update to the fitness device. This new firmware will bring the version number 10.2.2612.0.

Microsoft hasn’t provided us with any of the changes made in this firmware update on their support page but we suspect that it’s most likely fixes for the previous major update.

To update manually you can open the Microsoft Health app and it may update that way, or you can plug the Band into your PC and run the synchronization software to get it.

[Video] Microsoft Band virtual keyboard full review – it works surprisingly really well

Microsoft has just pushed out the first major update for the Band since its launch in October, and one of the cool new features is the availability of a virtual keyboard. But how well does it actually work on such a tiny screen? Surprisingly, really well. We have to say that Microsoft did the best implementation possible on the screen real estate available.

The way to start a text is to tap on the messaging tile and reply to one of the previous messages you’ve received, or you can just reply to a text when one comes in. Scroll upwards on the screen and you’ll see a reply icon. Once you tap that icon, from there you can select the keyboard option, voice to text with Cortana, or choose a response from the list of the pre-selected replies.

Once you select the keyboard, you’ll notice it’ll take up the entire screen. But don’t worry, you can always scroll over to the right to see what you actually wrote.  You’ll notice there’s a space button in the owner corner and a period on the top left.

This keyboard uses Microsoft’s Word Flow technology which does a fantastic job in predicting commonly used words  so you don’t have to be entirely accurate while typing and the end-result is very good, actually.  Missing the letters completely while typing often results in what you were trying to achieve as the prediction engine is pretty well optimized in this situation, and it does a really good job of figuring out what you’re trying to type.

WP_20150223_23_27_13_ProTo add punctuation or numbers, just scroll to the left while using the keyboard and you’ll see an option to add numbers or punctuations. Yep, for such a tiny thing it certainly has all the keyboard essentials.

In the middle of your message or after you’ve finished, you can scroll over to the right to check if you’re satisfied with the result, and then scroll back to continue typing. If not, you can tap a word you’re not happy with and just above it you’ll see a few suggestions to select from. There’s also an X beside the word in case you choose to delete it completely and a plus sign to add more text before the word selected. Once you’ve finished, you would press the action button to send it off.

We’re very impressed with how Microsoft implemented these features considering how tiny the display is, and although it’s nice to have this ability, it’s hard to imagine situations where one would use this when your phone is always nearby. Either way, some people may find this useful, especially while exercising or while they’re away from their phones.

Microsoft Band, Health get major updates including Bike Tile, Virtual Keyboard, Developer SDK Preview & more

microsoft-bandMicrosoft Band is a very useful health & fitness tracker but also a handy smart-watch that has a lot of potential. Although the device was launched late last year at a very small scale, Microsoft wanted to get a lot of user feedback and carefully examine user-data before they mass-produce the wearable tech. Presently, it’s only available in the U.S. but we expect to see Microsoft Band available in more countries in the near future.

It’s been well over three months since the Band hit the shelves (and also sold out within hours), and today Microsoft has released the first large update to the device as well as an update to the Microsoft Health app which now fully integrates with Microsoft HealthVault and MapMyFitness. It also gives users a much deeper insight into their health activities and workouts through Microsoft Health Web Dashboard.

“For the last three months, we’ve monitored feedback carefully from customers, partners and media. While the response has been overwhelmingly positive, we are continuing to listen to our customers and make improvements based on their feedback,” said Matt Barlow, General Manager of New Devices Marketing. “This feedback is at the heart of the decisions we make, and today we’re pleased to take our first steps in launching new features and functionality for Microsoft Band and Microsoft Health that address what we’re hearing.”

On the front-end, the update is mainly focused on enhancing the interaction and workout experience while the user is biking, through the new “Bike Tile” and guided bike workouts. Another feature included in the update is the “Virtual Keyboard” which lets users read and reply to text messages and e-mail straight from the Band by easily swiping the on-screen predictive keyboard. This is only available (at least for now) for those with the Windows Phone 8.1. Click here to watch our full video review of the Virtual Keyboard.

On the back-end, there is now a new ability to allow third party developers to tap into the Band’s vast array of workout APIs as Microsoft has announced the release of the Developer Preview SDK. According to a recent press release, “this will allow third party developers to start building innovative new apps and creative new experiences for Microsoft Band. Developers can learn more at http://developer.microsoftband.com

Here is the full list of features now available for the Microsoft Band & Microsoft Health:

Insights

  • Microsoft Health Web Dashboard: The Microsoft Health web dashboard provides users insights, unique to them. The more users use their Microsoft Band, the more valuable these insights will become. The web dashboard is accessible via any web browser, providing a powerful complement to the Microsoft Health mobile app, which helps users track progress to their fitness goals. Users can access their personal Microsoft Health web dashboard at: https://dashboard.microsofthealth.com.

Features

Bike Tile: The Bike Tile on users’ Microsoft Band lets them track their rides both indoors and outdoors, on the road or trail. Features include:

  • Heart Rate Monitor: When the Bike tile is active, the heart rate monitor is optimized specifically for biking activities.
  • Elevation Tracking: Track elevation and elevation gain, distance and duration and calorie burn– viewable in the Microsoft Health app.
  • GPS: Users can activate GPS on their Band to map their ride in the mobile app and share it with their friends via email.
  • Speed Analysis: Track your current and average speeds both on the band and in the mobile app, and review your custom splits to relive those longer bike rides.
  • Recovery: From the mobile app, users can see an estimate for how long it will take their body to recover from the ride.
  • Web Dashboard: Biking functionality is supported by the Microsoft Health mobile app at launch. Integration with the Microsoft Health web dashboard is coming soon.
  • Guided Workouts: Five new indoor biking workouts have been added to the Guided Workouts portfolio, including: Indoor Bike Tabata Sprints, Indoor Bike Hour of Sweat, Indoor Bike Total Body, Indoor Bike Pyramid, and Indoor Bike Intervals.
  • Quick Read: Quick Read provides another option to scan incoming texts, emails and other notifications. When enabled, notifications are displayed in a large font size and in rapid succession of words enabling users to read messages while in motion and without the need to scroll.
  • Virtual Keyboard & Voice Replies for Windows Phone 8.1 Users: Windows Phone 8.1 users can craft replies to text messages in two ways. Users can reply to text messages using the virtual keyboard with minimal errors with the help of Microsoft’s World Flow technology, which predicts commonly used words and phrases. They can also dictate responses with voice, powered by Cortana.

Integration

  • Microsoft HealthVault: Users can create a complete picture of their health, with them at the center. Microsoft HealthVault lets users organize their health information in one place, and helps them gather, store, use, and share information and records with their healthcare providers. Now with Microsoft HealthVault integration, a user’s Microsoft Health data is automatically uploaded to their HealthVault account, including their workout and sleep data. To link a Microsoft HealthVault account to Microsoft Health data, simply go to “Connected Apps” in the menu of the Microsoft Health app.
  • MapMyFitness: Starting today, users can sync to their MapMyFitness account. To link a MapMyFitness account to Microsoft Health data, simply go to “Connected Apps” in the menu of the Microsoft Health app.

Microsoft Health & Microsoft Band updated with 12 new workouts; Health web app coming soon

microsoft-band-smartwatch-fitnessLast week Microsoft quietly released their first notable update to Microsoft Band firmware and Microsoft Health app since the fitness tracker went on sale. It was released quietly because there wasn’t much available in terms of a change log but we anticipated it had something to do with preparation for future updates beside the standard “general performance improvements” tagline that accompany most smaller app updates.

Well, today we’re finding out that Microsoft is perhaps leveraging that update as the company has published a press release saying they’re rolling out a major content update to the Band and Health app.  The app will now support up to 100 Guided Workouts including some from best-selling fitness author Mark Rippetoe.  According to Microsoft, this update brings “12 new workouts, as well as four new workout plans that range between two and three weeks each.”

These new workouts will be available just in time as most folks are trying to shed some pounds gained over the holidays and start a fresh new year. Microsoft Band is the perfect coach for those lucky enough to own one as there are still supply issues with the device.

“The updates round out the portfolio with strength training workouts of all levels, timeframes and difficulties, ranging from routines for beginners just starting out with the New Year, up to experienced enthusiasts who need something new and fresh to kick start their year of fitness.”

Additionally, WindowsCentral found out that the Web version of Microsoft Health app is being developed and more details will come soon. They also managed to get more information from Microsoft about Band-related updates with the company stating “this is the first in a series of updates for Microsoft Health and Microsoft Band, and we look forward to announcing additional content, features and partners in the weeks and months ahead.”

Source: WindowsCentral

Microsoft Band firmware, Microsoft Health app updated for Windows Phone & Android

microsoft-bandMicrosoft Band was released in limited supply in the U.S. over two months ago and since then there haven’t been any firmware updates released for the device or significant software updates pushed for the Microsoft Health app until today. The firmware update appears to be very minor and we don’t have exact details on what has been changed but we expect it’s bug fixes and related to performance.

Windows Phone users can now install an update for Microsoft Health app which doesn’t contain any new features but it does however bring “General app fixes and improvements” according to Microsoft.

Microsoft Health app also received an update on Google’s Play Store so Android users can now “control which apps send notifications to the notification center tile on the Band.” The update also adds “Just go to Manage Tiles and click on the Notification Center entry from the list.”

Click here to download Microsoft Health for Windows Phone

Click here to download Microsoft Health for Android

How Many Bands Did Microsoft Have at Launch? Would You Believe 5,000?

Microsoft-Band---official-imagesUpdate (Tuesday November 18, 2014 2:24PM)Today’s online stock of Microsoft Band sells out in 15 minutes! Click here to read more.

By now the ‘Stealth Launch’ of the Microsoft Band is quickly becoming a legend. Quantities were so limited at launch that it sold out on line within hours. That sounds more like a gold-plated iPhone launch than an unexpected new Microsoft product release, but that’s how it was.

And to a large extent, it still is. It’s been a couple of weeks now and the Band is still Out Of Stock online, and reports are that most stores are out as well.

There has been a lot of speculation online that Microsoft did this deliberately, to create the appearance that this was a highly desired and successful product. Personally, I don’t think that makes much sense, but clearly there was a mis-match between supply and demand.

A while ago I called the Microsoft Band Support people to inquire about an ‘update’ that showed up for the Band. As we reported, it turned out that this wasn’t an update to the Band, but rather to an App that wanted to communicate with the Band.

"Feeling Lucky...Punk?"
“Feeling Lucky…Punk?”

While I was on the line I mentioned how lucky I seemed to have been to get one of them before they sold out. “You’re luckier than you think, Microsoft only had 5,000 of them for the launch.” he said.

That hit me like a thunderbolt. “Five thousand!”, I exclaimed. “Are you kidding me!”. “No.” He replied, “Five thousand. Five, zero, zero, zero. That’s all. They’re working hard now to build more to meet the demand, but we have no idea when they will be back in stock again.”

I asked him to repeat the number back to me, just so I was sure I understood. He did, and again, the number was just 5,000.

That’s an amazingly small product launch. There’s testing the waters, but this would be more like testing a puddle!

Now, Support people are an interesting group. Sometimes they know more than they should, and sometimes they know less than they need to, and sometimes they don’t know as much as they think they do. Most of the time I’ve found they know what they need to solve basic issues, so even though it was a recent and very interesting event, one wonders why a support rep would be privy to launch stock volume information.

After all, this IS Microsoft. How long did it take them to release sales numbers for the Xbox One? So in the interests of keeping facts straight, we reached out to Microsoft and asked them to comment on the information their rep had given me.

Initially, their response, was, well, I’ll let you read it:

From a Microsoft spokesperson:

“We are excited by the response we have seen to Microsoft Band but Microsoft does not comment on production volumes.”

That’s not saying much is it. It neither confirmed nor denied the accuracy of the information at hand. Having added nothing to the conversation, we were just going to have to go with what we had. I guess Microsoft figured that out, because after a short while they added the following:

we don’t officially share or comment on specific numbers but, so you’re aware, we have built and have sold well beyond 5,000 units.

"Well?  Do You?"
“Well? Do You?” Hurry up. ‘Cause I gotta go order some Starbucks with this thing!”

So there you have it. Was it 5,000, or “well beyond 5,000 units.”?  Personally, I thought the 5,000 number was low, but clearly they had a lot fewer than they could have sold. Let’s hope they will be able to work through the backlog soon.  Both Black Friday and Christmas are coming up, as are a number of Openings of new Microsoft Stores (we will be covering some of them) so there will be a lot of people hoping to see one on their wrist soon.

Microsoft Wasn't Lying About Battery Life For Their New Smart Band

Oh it gets great gas Milage. Trust me!
Oh it gets great gas Milage. Trust me!

One of the vexing aspects of modern wearable electronics is that they are electronic. Hence, they require batteries, and batteries have finite capacities. We’ve all seen and read of the claims and counter-claims about this phone or that one’s battery life, and in many cases have found that such claims are about as accurate in the real world as a Hyundai mileage sticker in the dealer’s showroom.

Your mileage may vary indeed.

So when the Microsoft Band burst upon the scene two weeks ago the question of its battery life was of concern. Surely a device keeping track of up to 10 sensors including GPS would need a huge battery to keep it going, and where was there room in the Band’s sleek packaging?

MS Band w Batteries LabeledWell it turns out that Microsoft has been very clever, packing in not one but two batteries into places you might not have expected. The wrist band contains two batteries, one on each side of the wrist, that also serve to ‘grip’ the Radius and Ulnar bones in a form-fitting cradle that keeps the Band from slipping around the arm without having to be too tight.

So, two batteries, but what about those sensors? Well Microsoft has released a bit more information about the clever power-sipping scheme they have devised to make optimal use of the Band’s sensor capabilities while maximizing its endurance.  In the case of the heartbeat sensor, it is turned on and off at intervals that vary depending on the activity and setting of the Band. It is turned on a lot when you are running, less often during the day, and even less while you sleep. In each case a useful heart rate profile is captured, without wasting battery life on unnecessarily high resolution. Clever.

First CarBut hopefully, not too clever.  It would be of little consolation if the resulting device was too limited by its electrical frugality to be effective for its intended use. So far, the MS Band is getting rave reviews for its functionality, so the only question would seem to be, what about those battery life claims?

Well Microsoft told us to expect 2 days worth of battery life in typical use, which included a run with GPS activated and sleep monitoring.  I’ve been wearing my Band for 10 days now with a use profile very much like the one Microsoft suggested would be ‘typical’. To be frank, I actually use it at least as much as a smartwatch, receiving notifications, Texts, Alarms and Reminders all to my wrist, with the Haptic feedback on the “High” setting.  Throw in occasional Cortana use as well and I’m demanding a lot from it, with Bluetooth enabled 24/7.

"Seems a Bit Excessive"
“Seems a Bit Excessive”

In my experience so far, Microsoft’s claims are quite accurate.  Unlike certain car companies, Microsoft’s claims that the Band will last 2 days have been completely in line with my experience. On days where I have charged the Band fully at night, the battery holds between 60-40% at the end of the day.  Running it for two days flat takes the battery down to 10%.

Ten days and one user is hardly a statistically valid sample but at least so far I’m happy to see my Band delivering on the battery life Microsoft claimed.

Microsoft hummerNow if only they made cars…

 

 

 

Well, maybe it’s better if they stick to electronics.

Microsoft Band Gets An Update – But It's For Another App's Notifications

microsoft-bandIf you’re one of the lucky ones to have a sold-out Microsoft Band on your wrist when you get to your computer or tablet and open up the Band syncing software you may think you’re in for a treat – an update is waiting for you!

I happily ran through the update procedure without any issue, just follow the onscreen prompt to connect your Band and it’s really as simple as that.

I couldn’t detect any changes to the Band, and the Build: 1.1.1933.0 09 R was the same as before, so I contacted Microsoft Band support to ask was was updated.

It turns out that the update was not to the Band per se, but rather was related to an app that accesses the Notification Center and sends a notification to the Band.

When an app on your phone wants to send notifications to the Band, it has to be modified to do so, as well as the software on the Band has to be modified to accept it.

The Service people tried to find out what app was involved, but apparently it’s only possible to do so indirectly. If you’re interested in finding out, on your Windows Phone, open up the Store and then tap the three dots on the bottom right corner, select “Downloads”, then swipe right to “History”.  There you should see a list of the apps that have been downloaded or updated recently.

In this case, one or more of these apps have been updated to send Notifications directly to the Band.  In order to receive the Notifications, the Band has to update its list of acceptable incoming notifications.  So that’s what the ‘Update’ on your Band was about. And with the popularity of the Band, I expect we will be seeing more of these “Updates” in the future.

When Microsoft does update the Band firmware, we’ll be sure to let you know!