Microsoft Health needs more than the Band to succeed

The state of Microsoft Health

When Microsoft unveiled the Band, part of the excitement came from the accompanying Health platform.  Its promise?  Essentially, it’s Microsoft’s new direction, applied to fitness.  Here’s how they describe it on the Health website:

“Microsoft Health is the beginning of an exciting journey we’re taking to help you live healthier. We have a powerful vision of what’s possible when premium device and service partners collaborate on an open platform. Eventually, you’ll be able to use the information gathered from a variety of devices and services to give you insights into your entire day across nutrition, work, fitness and rest.”

It’s a wonderful vision (there’s a nice post detailing it on the Microsoft Blog), but it’s concerning that eight months later the story is the same as it was at launch: The Band remains the only fitness device that directly integrates with Health.  And who has a Band?  That’s right, no one.

To be clear, Microsoft is making definite strides in third-party app support.  This past week the Band gained TaylorMade integration for golfers, and the ability to sync with Strava also came recently.  These exist in addition to earlier partnerships with Gold’s Gym, RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, and others.

But what about those “premium device…partners”?

The Band is a sensor-packed showcase of what is possible with Health; in fact, those very sensors are available to license.  Much like Surface for the PC market and HoloLens for augmented reality, the Band hardware plays a supporting role for Health.  Selling Bands was never going to be a big business for Microsoft; their interest is in the data being fed into their fitness platform.

Right now, consumers can sync their trackers’ data to Health via several apps, but let’s be honest – how many people are going to go out of their way to do that?  Probably a very small percentage.  People can also download and use the Health app directly.  In that case they would use their phones as step counters, but again, why go to the trouble when iOS and Android have a plethora of apps that do the same thing, including their own built in solutions?

The state of Microsoft Health

The problem is that Microsoft Health doesn’t currently offer anything over competing platforms.  True, Microsoft has positioned “actionable insights” as a differentiator, and the potential is undeniably exciting.  Imagine Health analyzing your calendar, perhaps suggesting a bed time based on the upcoming day, your prior activity, and the amount of sleep restoration you historically have gotten on those days.  Imagine Health observing trends in your gaming time on the Xbox, forming an understanding of when and why you tend to be most inactive.  What if it proactively suggested appropriate foods to eat?  Not just something generic, but tailored to you, accounting for allergies and what has given you the best performance during workouts.  None of those scenarios is out of the realm of possibility.  But that’s all it is right now – possibility.

The Health platform that Microsoft has built is really promising, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for it.  But I worry that it won’t go anywhere because, right now, it only makes sense to use if you own a Band.  That’s great that they’ve built their own supporting hardware, but the hardware tie-ins have to go much further than that.

So what is the answer?  One can only guess, but I would love to see a strong hardware partnership – something that tightly integrates Health as the default place to view and manage activities.  Let’s say that partner is Fitbit, for instance.  Microsoft gets tons of data, not to mention visibility.  In return, Fitbit can concentrate their time and resources on the trendy hardware, which I’d venture to say is really what drives their sales anyway.  The downside for Fitbit is that they give up control of part of their overall experience.

What do you think?  Is Microsoft Health on the right track?  Let us know in the comment section!

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