Microsoft's new plan for wearables makes a lot more sense

Rather than taking the ‘me too’ approach, Microsoft is playing to its strengths
Microsoft's change of course

It happened one fateful day in October. The year was 2016, and Microsoft announced it was discontinuing the Band 2 with no replacement in sight; its wearables strategy seemed to be headed the way of Windows 10 Mobile. Clearly, things weren't working out, despite - design aside - the Band 2 being one most innovative wearables on the market, loaded with sensors and feature-rich. More's the pity. It should have been a contender.

Instead, Microsoft decided to focus on its Health platform and step away from consumer wearables - at least those types of wearables. Personally, I don't think Microsoft's legacy of enterprise made it any easier to sell people on a "sexy" consumer device. Even the words "Microsoft tracker" sound a little uninspiring, no? But it was onto something good, and I wouldn't argue if you said it ceded the market a tad too early.

It was also a smart move. Microsoft needed to focus on its strengths in a scatter-gun market, and enterprise is its biggest. It recently announced a TrekStor-designed Windows 10 smartwatch, a bit of a surprise comeback, but it's not a wearable you'll want to buy. This is 100% enterprise, baby - a shrunken Microsoft Surface on your wrist for things like healthcare, manufacturing and "inventory management". Y'know, serious stuff.

Microsoft's change of course in wearables

Microsoft also told us earlier this month that it had formed a licensing agreement with Casio to share its wearable tech patents. It's a similar idea to what it sparked up with smartwatch maker Olio last year. Microsoft has a lot of patents in wearables covering sensors, software, security and more; sharing them will allow it to keep a toe in the consumer space, while focusing the rest of its energy on business, business, business.

This strategy is being paralleled in the VR/AR space, where Microsoft is again looking to enterprise and partnerships. HoloLens is one of the more exciting projects in that entire space right now, but while we long for games, games, games, Microsoft has been explicit that HoloLens is business first, fun second. While that's perhaps a little disappointing to those of us who just want to blast monsters in AR (there will definitely be some of that), it, again, shows Microsoft is being savvy.

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Then there's actual VR, for which Microsoft is choosing to partner up on a series of mixed reality systems rather than build some 'me too' hardware. Again, sensible, and focusing on 'mixed reality' may help it gain broader appeal, while undercutting other high-powered rivals on price can't hurt. The first of these we've tried is Acer's Mixed Reality HMD, and while the mixed element is questionable, it did leave us excited for where Microsoft's strategy is headed, especially for it to reveal its plans for Xbox One.

While we may sometimes lament what future Microsoft Bands might have looked like (blood pressure tracking was believed to have been a feature for the Band 3), it's hard to argue with the route it is taking. And who knows, perhaps in five years time it will make a grand return with an unbeatable, sensor-brimming fitness tracker or smartwatch, like Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham to become the Batman. For now it's playing to its strengths, trying not to spread itself too thin, and watching where wearable tech goes. And I think that's smart.


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