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Microsoft announces Health platform, Microsoft Band

By Bill Crounse

Bill CrounseREDMOND, Wash. – Microsoft has announced a new platform called Microsoft Health. Microsoft Health is designed to give people a holistic picture of their health, fitness, nutrition and work life to help them live healthier and achieve more.

For the health industry, Microsoft Health will unite health and fitness devices and services under a community cloud that will give people access to powerful machine learning to deliver more insight with the data they collect. Microsoft also announced something that has long been the subject of rumors on the web. It’s called the Microsoft Band. The Band is specifically designed for Microsoft Health. It is a cross-platform smart band that provides a balance of fitness and productivity benefits.

Microsoft Health includes an Intelligence Engine that uses advanced algorithms and machine learning to generate unique, personalized insight for the company’s partners devices and services. Over time, consumers will have the choice to combine their fitness data captured with a partner device with calendar and email information from Microsoft Office as well as location based information and more.

Microsoft Health is an open platform that partners can use in many ways. For instance, companies building new devices can also license Microsofts ten wrist-worn sensors to gather robust data. What are those sensors? Presently, they are Heart Rate, Gyroscope, Accelerometer, GPS, Galvanic Skin Response for hydration, Ambient Temperature, Skin Temperature, Microphone, and Ambient Light/UV.

At launch, Jawbone, MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper are the first companies to join Microsoft Health. Microsoft Health will also allow you, if you so choose, to connect your Microsoft Health data to HealthVault and share it securely with your medical provider, family or anyone else who needs to see it.

We plan to have a regular cadence of Microsoft Health announcements including additional device and service partnerships, SDK availability and additional cross-platform applications and services.

OK, but what can you do right now using the Microsoft Band? The answer is quite a lot. I was fortunate to be among a select few at the company to wear and use the Microsoft Band before it’s general release.

The Band connects seamlessly to an app on your smartphone via Bluetooth. Although I use a Windows Phone, the Microsoft Band is cross-platform meaning it works on iOS and Android devices too. The Band is worn much like a wristwatch and can be positioned with its colorful touch screen on the top or bottom of the wrist depending on your preference.

Opposite the screen, residing in the clasp, are the sensors for such parameters as heart rate, which is continuously monitored. At launch, not all of the sensors are enabled and not all of them are set to continually monitor. Nonetheless, what the Band does out of the box is impressive.

The Microsoft Band does many of the things you would expect. It monitors and reports out information on your fitness, exercise and calories burned. It will track your route, distance, etc. I’m not a runner, but I do like to walk. I tried it out in my neighborhood and learned that one of my favorite short walks is just about a mile in length and I burned, based on my height and weight, about 139 calories.

Of more interest to me personally was learning about my sleep patterns. The Microsoft Band will monitor your motion, heart rate, and other parameters as you sleep overnight. In the morning, the device synchs with your phone where you can learn about your sleep patterns from the night before.

I learned how long I slept, how fast I fell asleep, how much time I spent in light vs. restful sleep, how many times I woke up, and my average heart rate (42) during sleep.

The Microsoft Band also alerts you to incoming messages, e-mail, calls, news, and more. A gentle haptic buzz of varying lengths tells you about incoming information which is displayed on the Band’s colorful screen as it arrives. You can also speak to Cortana using the Band’s built-in microphone with her replies showing up as text on the screen.

Additionally, there are a myriad of settings to control the Band’s screen color, wallpaper, information, services, and the reminders you want to receive on your device.

This is just the beginning of something that may be truly revolutionary, as we are able to continuously monitor a number of physiological parameters from sensors which by themselves are interesting but when combined together and applied against powerful machine learning in the cloud may provide insights to health and productivity not previously possible.

The Microsoft Band is now available in limited quantities online at the Microsoft Store and starting today, in the US, at Microsoft Store retail outlets for $199.

Bill Crounse, MD, is Senior Director, Worldwide Health, at Microsoft.

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