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Microsoft Band update adds cycling app, keyboard, and more

A promise of monthly app updates could make Microsoft's Band a whole lot better over time, starting with this month's new fitness features and a developer preview SDK for apps.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sooner or later, Microsoft could overtake other fitness tracking software. The first update for the Microsoft Band , released Monday, might indicate what's to come.

Microsoft took its first bite out of the fitness market last fall with its all-in-one fitness tracker, but the Microsoft Band came with number of quirks and software that didn't quite live up to the device's potential. Today's update, the first major one since the band's launch, is the beginning.

A new developer preview SDK, available today, will allow app developers to start trying their hand at creating Microsoft Band apps. More info on that SDK will come in the next month, according to Microsoft. The ability run other apps on the Microsoft Band could be great, if developers choose to come aboard.

Microsoft's new Health Web-based dashboard finally adds more detailed charts, and insights: the sort of gathered summarization of your collected calorie, sleep, running and exercise data that Microsoft promised last year. Insights are a great next step, but for now they're only gathered from your own cloud of data, versus comparative feedback based on others like Jawbone does. Also, these insights are Web-only for now: you can't view them, or the more comprehensive types of charts, on the more minimal Microsoft Health phone app. According to Microsoft, that's still in the plans.

A few new Band features have been added: a dedicated cycling tile now handles any cycling-based exercise including GPS tracking, calorie burn, duration, distance and splits -- and while in cycling mode heart rate is tuned for biking, either outdoor or indoor stationary. Five new downloadable workouts are also cycling-related. New tiles for other exercise types may come down the road, which would make a lot of sense.

Microsoft's also added a few attempts at improving sending and receiving messages. A new onscreen predictive keyboard using WordFlow somehow fits on the Band's tiny display, in case you need to respond to messages and don't deign to fish out your phone (Windows 8.1 users can use the built-in mike with Cortana). And a "quick read" mode displays messages in speed-reading style one at a time in large font as an alternative to squinting at lines of text on your wrist.

Syncing data with other apps and services has also been improved a bit: the Microsoft Band will now sync its health data with MapMyFitness and Microsoft HealthVault.

Microsoft is aiming at monthly updates for the Band from here on in. That's a good sign if you took a leap to buy one: it seems like a gadget that will keep evolve.