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Microsoft's wearables game plan: How a fitness band fits in

Microsoft isn't going the Smartwatch 2.0 route with its rumored fitness band. Instead, the company has a more targeted and cloud-connected wearables game plan, sources say.

Mary Jo Foley
Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network.
Mary Jo Foley
3 min read

Microsoft included this image in a "wearable personal information system" patent it was awarded in May. A finished product could look quite different. USPTO/Microsoft

Rumors about a coming Microsoft smartwatch have been circulating for a while. As of a few months ago, that "smartwatch" was sounding more like it would be a fitness band.

On Sunday, Forbes reconfirmed its previous reporting and Windows SuperSite's reported that the first of Microsoft's new wearables looked to be a fitness band, not a more fully-featured watch. The latest reports claim the coming Microsoft fitness band could be available for purchase this holiday season. (Or at least by the very end of this year, if Microsoft can get its ducks in a row.)

A related aside: Eagled-eyed reader Erdim Tanyeri spotted what might or might not be a prototype of the Microsoft fitness band during the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" TV show on October 7. (See the image embedded below.) He noted that this particular show often features Microsoft products, including Surfaces and Lumias. I have no idea if the fitness band he saw is something Microsoft provided to the studio, but at the very least, it provides an idea of what a Microsoft fitness band could look like based on previous tips and leaks.

I heard earlier this summer that Microsoft was rethinking what its first new wearable device should be. Rather than going all-in with yet another fully-featured, me-too smartwatch aimed at the masses, the company was leaning more towards a more targeted device appealing to a more limited audience.

Rumor has it that the Microsoft fitness band will work not just with Windows Phone, but also with iPhones and Android phones. That makes sense given the new Microsoft's cross-platform push.

It's the Microsoft side of the wearables equation that interests me the most, however. I'm expecting the coming fitness band to have a Windows core inside the device, given Microsoft execs' insistence that Windows 10 will run "everywhere," meaning from the smallest Internet of Things devices, to data center servers.

The Operating Systems Group team at Microsoft is building a common set of graphics, gaming and media consumption/creation services that will work on PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox consoles and wearables. I'd assume there will be a similar push on the development side of the house to enable developers to access a common set of tools and programming interfaces to build apps for all of these different Windows platforms (to the extent that the UI/form factor allows).

Don't forget Microsoft recently relaunched its MSN.com portal. The revamped Health and Fitness vertical on MSN.com allows users to maintain their daily diet intake journal; track their cardio exercise; record a run with GPS coordinates (on GPS-enabled phones); track their weight and steps; analyze historical diet, exercise and other data; and store favorite foods and exercises. Microsoft's HealthVault is no longer required to sync across devices for the Health & Fitness app. But Microsoft officials said they are not planning to phase out HealthVault, which is a service where users can store their medical information.

There's an interesting cloud connection here, too. The new MSN.com is using the Azure NoSQL service, known as DocumentDB, as a core component of its User Data Store. Health and Fitness is one of the first MSN verticals going live on Azure DocumentDB with the new MSN launch. The other MSN verticals will soon start using an updated UDS architecture layered on top of Azure DocumentDB.

I've heard from my contacts that Microsoft also has been working on what might be its second wearable. Known internally as "="" this="" sounds="" like="" it="" will="" be="" a="" gaming="" helmet"="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="75e48f38-8c86-11e2-b06b-024c619f5c3d" slug="is-microsoft-working-on-gaming-helmets-and-eyewear" link-text="" section="news" title="Is Microsoft working on gaming helmets and eyewear?" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"75e48f38-8c86-11e2-b06b-024c619f5c3d","slug":"is-microsoft-working-on-gaming-helmets-and-eyewear","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"culture"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Culture","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> if and when it ends up coming to market. (Patent applications by Microsoft for such a helmet date back to 2012.)

I could see Microsoft offering its rumored fitness band and gaming helmet as part of various bundles with its Xbox and/or its Windows Phones/Surface tablets. That would be a sounder strategy, to me, than simply building yet another smartwatch that offers users little they can't do today with their smartphones alone...

This story originally appeared as "How Microsoft's expected fitness band fits into its new wearables game plan" on ZDNet.