Microsoft Health platform launches with payments-friendly, $199 Band wearable

Microsoft has unveiled its answer to Google’s Fit platform and Apple’s HealthKit: a platform called Microsoft Health, with its first dedicated device being a fitness-tracking wearable simply called Band.

Interestingly, Band also appears to be a mobile payments play – Microsoft has already partnered with Starbucks to let people load their Starbucks Card onto the smart wristband.

Microsoft Health appLike its rivals, Microsoft Health provides a hub for health-related data from various sources, such as the Microsoft Band but also from other smartwatches and from smartphone apps such as RunKeeper and Jawbone UP. Unlike its rivals, Health isn’t platform-specific – the app is available for Android and iOS as well as Microsoft’s own Windows Phone.

The core of the service is the company’s cloud-based “intelligence engine”, which will start off by using data to calculate which exercises burned the most calories, how much time people should take to recover after a particular workout, and how much sleep was restful as opposed to restless. Microsoft also intends to bring in data from its Office email and calendar services, so users can figure out whether the number of meetings in a given day affects the quality of subsequent sleep, and so on.

If the user so chooses, she can have Microsoft Health send its conclusions to her HealthVault account for sharing with medical providers.

In a statement late Wednesday, the firm said established fitness apps could plug into Microsoft Health, but it was also encouraging new entrants to build their services around the cloud platform – and also to license Microsoft’s sensor modules for monitoring sleep, location, calorie burn, heart rate, skin temperature and ultraviolet light.

Microsoft Band explodedThese sensors are used in the $199 Microsoft Band, which also provides access to the Cortana virtual assistant, along with call, email, text and social notifications on its 1.4″, 320×106-pixel touchscreen. As Microsoft explained in a blog post, some of the sensor technology was adapted from the (thus far) gaming-focused Kinect project.

Again, the splash and dust-resistant Band will work across the three major mobile platforms – specifically, Windows Phone 8.1, iOS 7.1 or later (must also be the iPhone 4S or later), and Android 4.3 or later.

Band is supposed to be worn 24 hours a day in general, though Microsoft says it will need a recharge after 48 hours of normal use – the use of GPS, for example, will chew up extra power. Recharging the dual 100mAh lithium-ion polymer batteries, using a magnetically coupled connector, will take 1.5 hours. Limited supplies of the device are available in the U.S. through Microsoft’s stores.