Oh, the Microsoft Band. The fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid will have its software life support finally turned off on 31 May. While anyone (is there really anyone?) still using one of the two versions of the wearable will still be able to use it, ultimately it signals the end of a wearable story that started back in 2014. Even now I'm still not sure how it managed to see the light of day.
I say that because if you can't deliver on one of the most basic principles of what makes a good wearable then you are on a one way road to failure. And somehow a company the size and stature of Microsoft managed to make an absolute hash of it with the Band.
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If you ever had the displeasure of owning or even trying a Microsoft Band, you'll know what I'm talking about here. If there was an award for most uncomfortable wearable ever made, the Band would definitely be in the running. That combination of a screen that didn't sit naturally on the wrist with the reinforced plastic on the interior of the device made it tight and restrictive, and you always knew you were wearing it. But wait, Microsoft let you wear it an alternative way, with the Band's screen sitting on the inside of the wrist. That didn't change things; it was still horrible to wear.
Things did improve with the second generation Band, but not nearly enough. That awkwardly shaped design was still there and now there was a big, chunky watch clasp that would so delightfully knock against tables and had a habit of digging into your wrist. Getting it wrong once is bad, twice is unforgivable.
It was hard to look beyond such a dramatic design failure and appreciate the few positives that Microsoft did manage to deliver with the two Bands. At the time, it had one of the best touchscreen displays found on a wearable and was up there with Samsung's finest. It also crammed in sensors that hadn't really appeared on wrist worn wearables, like UV and skin temperature sensors, that while largely untapped appeared to suggest Microsoft was looking at how it could evolve the uses of its wearable.
Microsoft's Health software showed positives both on the device and off it. It was arguably one of the first wearables to offer the ability to download and sync custom workouts to follow from the wrist, and in many respects did a better job than Apple and Fitbit, offering the same functionality natively or through third party apps.
Ultimately though, it was the mistakes made with the design not once, but twice that sealed the fate of the Band. How could you appreciate those features when you didn't want to wear it? It seems the story would have been the same with the cancelled Band 3 based on the pictures and video that surfaced of the device that never went on sale.
It seems that Microsoft focused so much on innovation that it forgot the most important element of making a wearable. If the Band is ever reborn, I'm confident that Microsoft will avoid making it a hat-trick of design disasters. Maybe it'll get a few more people to try it on as well.
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