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Microsoft Enters Wearables Market

Redmond, Wash. — Microsoft began offering its first smart band through its stores and website at $199, beating Apple to the market and further extending its reach into consumer hardware.

The Microsoft Band, which works with the Microsoft Health smartphone app, is compatible with smartphones from all three major OSs — Android, iOS and Windows Phone — to differentiate it from Apple’s planned smart watch and other smart watches on the market.

The Band provides health-related and productivity functions.

Like a watch, the Band tells time, but it adds health-related functions such as 24-hour heart-rate tracking, steps taken, calories burned and hours slept. It also maps and saves routes taken while jogging, hiking or biking and recommends expert-designed workouts like a personal trainer would, the company said.

Productivity applications include monitoring and previewing email and text messages, viewing calendar alerts and social-media updates, viewing caller ID, and viewing weather and finance news. With a tethered Microsoft Phone 8.1 phone, consumers can use Cortana to verbally set reminders and ask for traffic, weather, stock and sports data.

The company promised that the functionality of its Microsoft Health app would be expanded with the addition of device and service partners.

Although the band is available for online ordering by consumers, Microsoft didn’t say when online orders would ship.

The device joins other recent Microsoft-brand hardware launches, including Surface tablets and, through the acquisition of Nokia’s handset business, cellphones. In the previous decade, the company has also offered the Zune portable media player and the SPOT watch, which received data such as weather and stocks via FM radio-station frequencies. Both are no longer available.  The company continues to offer a game console and computer accessories, however.