Thursday night, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Band, and new health-related wearable from Redmond. The device has a very Modern design, a very Modern interface and a collection of health sensors: some fairly common, like heart rate, and others fairly unique, like UV sensor. The accompanying application platform, Microsoft Health, has compatibility with the Big 3 mobile platforms: Windows Phone, iOS and Android. The device was available Friday morning at Microsoft Store locations and online.
Almost immediately, the device was sold out online and physical Microsoft Stores had lines outside to pay for the new device. While some will say that Microsoft is keeping a limit on the supply to keep demand up, the success rate of that tactic has been less than stellar for any manufacturer in the past. The number one goal of a company with a product is to get that product into the hands of consumers, and no amount of "Out of Stock" headlines will help with that goal - it will only drive your customers to find a similar alternative. So, why is Microsoft out of the Microsoft Band already?
The reality is, this device, like the Surface, is not intended to be a stand-alone successful product. Instead, it is a marketable prototype designed to show off a different way of thinking to their partners. In the case of the Surface, it was about challenging their manufacturers, who license Windows from them, to create unique hardware concepts. Because of this, we have a thriving market of unique Windows hardware, from the Surface and ASUS Transformer Book to the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga line, you can get a computer that matches your needs. More importantly, though, is the increase in options based on a Microsoft-licensed platform.
The Microsoft Band is the same thing, just with a focus on encouraging its hardware partners to build Microsoft Health-based products instead of Windows. In the announcement post, Corporate Vice President Todd Holmdahl said,
Microsoft Health is designed to benefit our partners in many ways. For new entrants and startups we have a complete offering that includes our app, and APIs as well as cloud storage for their data. Existing services can upload their data to Microsoft Health and take advantage of our advanced algorithms and the powerful machine learning from our Intelligence Engine to give their customers insights. New devices can license our 10 wrist-worn sensor modules to gather robust data including active heart rate, sleep and GPS.
So, for Microsoft, the idea was not to build a product to compete with the lines of Fitbit, but instead to show what Fitbit could do with the power of Microsoft Health at its back. This includes both the licensing of the sensor array and the use of Microsoft Health, which includes all of the incredible Azure-based machine learning technology that has made Cortana, Bing and the Xbox One so powerful. When your goal is to license the technology, also attempting to crush the competition would go a long way towards negating your primary goal.
This still doesn't exactly explain the supply shortage that Microsoft is currently experiencing, or does it? Actually, it does. As with the original Surface launch, Microsoft massively under estimated the demand for what they consider a marketable prototype. Most likely, the company expected a number of developers and Microsoft die-hards to purchase the device, along with some of their "competitors," but did not expect the lines in the stores from people who were not already Microsoft-focused consumers. Again, as with the Surface, I suspect we will see production increase and future generations of the technology produce more initial quantities.
The nice thing about having a semi-successful hardware product, with the intention of selling other hardware companies a software product is, if the Microsoft Health platform is completely ignored by the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone, Microsoft can simply start to market the Band and sell it as they have done the Surface Pro 3: successfully. Backup plans are always a good thing.