“Devices come and go,” mused Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella this March, discussing the wearables market. Now Nadella can notch up another hardware kill. Microsoft, the only enterprise vendor with a wearable platform, has confirmed it has no plans to launch a third version of its activity wearable, the Microsoft Band.
Reports also suggest Microsoft’s own internal Band unit has been disbanded. The news was broken by Mary Jo Foley last month, but officially confirmed yesterday.
The first Microsoft Band was launched in late 2014 (arriving in the UK the following spring) and positioned slightly upmarket of the market leader Fitbit.
Its more ambitious successor, Band 2.0, arrived later last year. Even critical reviews cited the potential of the trackers, and Microsoft had spotted the correct trend early – activity tracking - while the industry was rushing headlong to create overspecified do-it-all "smartwatches" that have failed to shift.
This year, Apple and Pebble have repositioned their wearables while Google has just postponed the launch of Wear 3 to next year. (It was due to exit beta around now). Other than Google, Microsoft Band was the only wearable with serious enterprise developer support – but Microsoft has pulled the Band SDK too.
Band launched alongside Microsoft Health, a cloud service – sorry "platform" – for health and fitness data. Microsoft says Health will continue.
The first Band was a light but slightly cumbersome plastic design that nevertheless won praise for its thoughtful UX design, and the high quality presentation of activity data on the Health site. (Apple and Google take note). The Band added phone notifications and Cortana (at least on Windows Phone) to the basic activity tracker feature set popularised by Fitbit and Jawbone. The second iteration was much more ambitious and expensive, and with its metal buckle, barometer and a large and lavish curved OLED display, Band 2.0 seemed to be trying to make a style statement. The complexity and cost seemed to stall momentum.
If any other major manufacturer wanted to discontinue its flagship wearable, you might expect to hear of a face-saving partnership with a company you’ve probably never heard of in China, and a commitment to support users for years. Not so here. The news leaked out in dribs and drabs. There’s a slim possibility that a third party manufacturer may take up the slack, but nothing suggests Microsoft has long-term or wide-ranging commitment to supporting a third-party wearable platform.
Clearly no fan of hardware, Nadella has snuffed out Microsoft’s smartphones and featurephone efforts and can now stencil a wearable onto the kill list. The Microsoft pre-Nadella hardware graveyard has room for an audio system, the DSS80; a cordless phone; a futuristic tablet called Courier, never released); the Zune music player; Kin consumer smartphones; and a large number of accessories and controllers. Oddly one of the longest lived was the SPOT platform, which spawned a number of third party devices, none of which were made by Microsoft.
So much for Microsoft getting things right by version 3.0.
The full Nadella quote from March is worth revisiting:
I also am wearing this Microsoft Band. And the interesting thing about the Band is that it’s actually a sensor framework on my wrist. It has sensors for our hardware tracking, GPS, the ability to do UV light sensing. [There are] a lot of sensors which are all built for this low-energy device that are connecting data, and all that data is moving to the cloud.
Without a dedicated wearable, how does Microsoft propose to collect this data, and build a direct relationship with consumers? Phones collect sensor data, but not very well. And Microsoft doesn't really make those any more, either. ®