Significant Microsoft Band updates aren’t a thing shoppers are used to just yet, but Microsoft seems to be trying to remedy that ahead of the Apple Watch’s looking release. Today, the company revealed a new Microsoft Band update that packs a keyboard, a new bike mode and updated companion apps.
Microsoft began rolling out the new features and more this morning in different updates aimed at that the different parts of the Microsoft Band ecosystem. The Microsoft Band is a wearable, a part of Microsoft’s hardware line-up aimed directly at the Apple Watch and devices running Google’s Android Wear operating system.
The update to the Microsoft Band itself allows users to compose complete messages thanks to Microsoft’s Word Flow technology. If Word Flow sounds familiar it’s because we’ve seen it before in Windows Phone 8.1. Word Flow allows users to run their finger over specific letters instead of tapping on each one. In theory, using Word Flow for the Microsoft Band’s keyboard makes a lot more sense than forcing some to peck out each letter on the device’s screen in a traditional fashion. Beyond Word Flow, Microsoft has added a new voice keyboard for those who are comfortable with using that on their smartphone already.
This update also adds a Bike Mode so that owners of the Microsoft Band can track their cycling. When turned on Bike Mode uses the Microsoft Band’s ridiculous amount of sensors to track their heart rate, elevation and speed.
There are a lot of companies making fitness bands and smartwatches, but only a few of them are pushing cross-platform compatibility in a big way. When it arrives later this year, the Apple Watch will only be compatible with Apple’s iPhone. Microsoft HealthVault and an updated Health app allows iPhone, Android and Windows Phone users to track their health. They are also getting updates today. A new web dashboard allows users to break down all the information previously available in only the Microsoft Band companion apps. In addition to that, Microsoft is letting HealthVault and Microsoft Band share information on sleeping patterns and more. In theory, physicians who use HealthVault should get a more complete picture of their patient’s health.
Microsoft is also rolling out a preview of the software developers will need to create new Microsoft Band apps. This new software lets apps interface directly with the Microsoft Band’s different data gathering tools.
Even before this update, the Microsoft Band offered, sleep tracking, GPS running and workout tutorials. Besides fitness, Microsoft is hoping that tons of productivity features will help it stay ahead of the Apple Watch. Notifications are surfaced directly on the Microsoft Band. Users can see who is calling their mobile phones too. Email checking, Calendar and support for the Cortana personal assistant are also included for Windows Phone users.
The Apple Watch was first shown off last year. It includes some of the same features that are available here. For example, Apple is also focusing pretty heavily on offering a best-in-class fitness experience. That being said, the Apple Watch is part computer and fashion statement. Three different versions of the Apple Watch will let users mix and match with their own style. Tons of different apps will complete the Apple Watch experience. iPhone 5s users will have to purchase an Apple Watch before they can use the new Apple Pay transaction system at local retailers.
We don’t know exactly what Apple plans to sell the Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition for. Microsoft is trying to build as much momentum for the Microsoft Band as possible. It costs just $199, though finding one at its retail stores has become very, very difficult.
The Verge says that these updates should arrive for all Microsoft Band users over the next few days.