Microsoft may dump Band fitness trackers as it backs away from hardware

Microsoft is backing away from another consumer hardware line: the Microsoft Band. But the software behind it will continue.

We’ve never been huge fans of Microsoft’s Band devices, but the fitness wearable does have a dedicated fan base. Unfortunately for its boosters, the Band 2 may be Microsoft’s final fitness tracker as the company continues to scale back its ambitions as a hardware company.

ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft has no plans to roll out a new Band in 2016, according to sources. On top of that, Foley says there was a group inside Microsoft trying to get Band hardware to run Windows 10 instead of custom firmware. That group has since been disbanded.

Anyone holding out hope for a Band 3 during Microsoft’s expected October devices event probably shouldn’t get their hopes up. Microsoft introduced the Band 2 in October 2015.

When pushed for a comment on the future of Band devices, a Microsoft spokesperson told Foley it will “continue to invest and innovate in the Microsoft Health platform, which is open to all hardware and apps partners across Windows, iOS, and Android devices.” The company also said it will continue to sell the Band 2, and is “deeply committed” to wearables as a market.

That reaction’s very similar to what Microsoft has said about Windows 10 Mobile. The company currently shows no interest in producing its own phones. Microsoft says it will continue iterating the software, but is leaving it up to third-party manufacturers to carry the Windows 10 Mobile banner. Similarly the platform behind the Band—Microsoft Health—will continue, but it seems other companies will have to build hardware around it.

The story behind the story: Microsoft is slowly retreating from the hardware strategy that began under former CEO Steve Ballmer. The Nadella-era Microsoft has backed away from phones, killed a so-called Surface Mini that was reportedly “awesome,” and now the Band experiment is ending. Even the Xbox is morphing from a major piece of consumer hardware into a platform that extends across PCs and consoles—largely via Xbox Live and the new Xbox Play Anywhere strategy.

This change is not necessarily a bad thing. Save for Windows 10 Mobile fans left with the bitter taste of abandonment, the Microsoft ecosystem appears to be better off focused on platforms and services.

Devices won’t entirely disappear from Microsoft, however. It seems unlikely Microsoft would give up on the business-friendly Surface lineup of tablets and laptops, but the company doesn’t appear to be eager for further experiments in consumer hardware—at least for now.

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Ian Paul

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