After watching for a while as other companies rolled out fitness bands and other wearable health devices, Microsoft has decided to join the fight for the wearables market.
In an effort to catch up with multiple competitors, most notably Apple, the tech giant has launched a new wearable fitness tracking wristband, mobile health app and cloud-based health data platform. The platform, called Microsoft Health, allows users to store health and fitness data, which is first generated by wearables -- including the $199 Microsoft Band -- and then collected by the Microsoft Health app.
The Microsoft Health app is available on Android, iOS and Windows Phone. The Microsoft Health platform and app also work with UP by Jawbone, MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper Apps.
While bringing health and fitness data together on the Microsoft Health platform may interest some consumers, what's likely to be more interesting to providers is that the data platform will soon be able to move the data over to Microsoft's HealthVault personal health record.
While many smaller companies have been successful in the exploding wearables market—which now reaches 21% of consumers, according to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers—Microsoft's real challengers are tech giants like Apple, Google and Samsung.
For example, Samsung jumped into the health wearables market in May, introducing the Samsung Simband and open health data cloud platform SAMI. Instead of a commercial product, the Simband is a "reference architecture"—basically a template any manufacturer can license to build their own devices. SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions), meanwhile, takes data from multiple sources and runs complex analytics on that data to provide deeper insights into the user's health.
This summer, Google gave the world a look at its approach to wearables, a smartwatch it dubbed Android Wear. Like Samsung's architecture, Google's design is being picked up by several manufacturers, including LG, Motorola and Samsung, whose products are for sale on Google Play.
And Apple recently unveiled both its Apple Watch, which should be priced at $349 when it's released early next year, and health data platform HealthKit. HealthKit is similar to Microsoft's offerings, in that it collects data from varied health and fitness apps, then makes the data available to Apple users through the company's Health app.
When it comes to making data shareable with providers, it seems Apple is currently a bit ahead, in that it's already capable of sending health data directly to hospital and physician EMRs. What's more, it's already closed a deal with New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System, which is the first health system to link an Epic Systems EMR with HealthKit.
But given the variety of wearable devices, health data collection apps, interfaces, technology and even prices available to consumers, it's impossible to predict which company's approach will become the dominant one. The consumer wearables market should be a chaotic space for quite some time to come.
Anne Zieger is a veteran journalist who’s been covering the U.S. healthcare scene for over 25 years. She provides “News with a Twist,” combining solid reporting with expert insights and analysis. Her opinions are her own. You can follow Anne on Twitter @annezieger.