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You won't want Microsoft's wearable just for 11 sensors or cross-platform support

Jon Phillips | July 4, 2014
Microsoft is working on a fitness-focused smartband that's packed with bio-sensors, as well as support for all three major mobile ecosystems. That's the recent news from three independent sources, and it sounds intriguing--until you unpack the details, and map what's been reported against the wearables status quo.

Were Microsoft to release a full-fledged smartwatch with three-way OS support, that would be more interesting. But a simple activity-tracker? No, not so much.

11 sensors: no big deal

Referencing unnamed sources, the rumor reports sing a common tune: This upcoming wristband will be squarely focused on activity tracking. All three stories say Microsoft will include a heart-rate monitor, and Tom's Hardware specifies there will be 11 sensors total.

Oooh. Eleven sensors. That sure sounds like a lot — like some kind of fancy, hospital-grade medical machine strapped to your wrist. But once you begin counting up likely sensors, you quickly see that 11 different ones isn't a big deal.

Recent reports says the oft-rumored iWatch will have 10 or more sensors, so when the last iWatch rumor story broke, I engaged the CEO of a sensor manufacturing company to tell me what type of components Apple would likely include. His feedback was rather snoozy. You can read my full report here, but here's the short version: Once you get past table-stakes-caliber sensors like accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses, the march to 10 gets pretty boring. You're left with a spectroscopic heart rate monitor, an oxymetry sensor that provides more information for accurate heart-rate reports, and skin conductance and temperature sensors to measure exertion.

Of course, there's absolutely zero guarantee that either Apple or Microsoft would deploy the sensors I mention here. I just want to emphasize that the idea that 10 or 11 sensors wouldn't necessarily break new ground in bio-data collection. Basis has been selling wristbands with heart-rate, skin conductance and skin temperature sensors for a number of years now.

Do you own a Basis band? Do your friends and family? Probably not. My point exactly.

According to reports, the rumored Microsoft wristband will be released anytime between October and sometime in Q4, and despite all my cautionary words above, I'm still very interested to see what Redmond is cooking up. Imagine an industrial design that borrows design cues from the always-interesting Surface family. That alone would be sure to capture headlines for at least a few days.


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