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Microsoft should release a Surface Band 3 to take on the Apple Watch 7

OPINION: It has been an interesting year for wearables, with numerous companies taking their first serious stab at dethroning the reigning Apple Watch in what feels like forever.

These include Samsung with its brilliant Galaxy Watch 4 and Garmin, with its Venu 2.

The Watch 4 is particularly interesting as it’s the first smartwatch to arrive using Google’s completely revamped Wear OS 3 software, which is a huge improvement that fixes key issues we had with the operating system.

These include improved app support, a more intuitive UI and a wealth of health tracking benefits. The combined package was so good, we gave the Galaxy Watch 4.5/5 stars, with reviewer Thomas Deehan going so far as to report:

“There’s been a lot of disappointment with Wear OS over the years, but with the Galaxy Watch 4, Samsung and Google seem to finally be turning the tide. The colourful new UI is a joy to use, and dusty Wear OS facets like Tiles and Google Maps have been given a major facelift with super-fast speed to boot.”

And if that wasn’t enough to excite wearable fans, rumblings suggest Google may finally launch an own brand Pixel Watch by the end of the year, offering yet more competition in what has undeniably been a one horse race recently.

This is doubly important as, though we haven’t reviewed it yet, the new Apple Watch 7 looks like a very tepid update on the Apple Watch 6 we tested last year. The only notable upgrades are a moderately larger, brighter screen, build quality improvements and the addition of fast charging. Hardly ground-breaking stuff, so the time has never been better for a fresh challenger to the Apple Watch to appear.

But for me, while more Fossil, Samsung and Google Wear OS 3 watches would be great, I want to see a company many don’t associate with wearables to return to the fray. Specifically, I’d like to see Microsoft resurrect it’s ill-fated Band line of smart timepieces.

To catch younger readers up, the Band was Microsoft’s flagship wearable. It aimed to offer similar smartwatch and fitness tracking features to the Apple Watch, but with a tie to Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform, rather than Apple’s.

The latter was a key reason the devices never took off the ground despite them having decent, for the time, hardware. Windows Phone was an operating system that never took off. Despite oodles of funding by Microsoft, the OS never got widespread app support or gathered a market share in the double figures.

When Microsoft pulled the plug and discontinued support for it in 2017 Instagram was still in beta on the platform and most of the few services on it hadn’t had significant updates for years.

It was this lack of support that made me score the second generation Microsoft Band 2 3.5/5 when I reviewed it all the way back in 2015, concluding:

“The Microsoft Band 2 is a marked improvement on its predecessor. It has a more intelligent design and wealth of new tracking features, thanks to the addition of a barometer sensor.

“However, a few niggling issues remain. Its design still isn’t quite right, resulting in the Band 2 feeling uncomfortable to wear during certain exercise. Its application offering is also a little lacking compared to the Apple Watch and most competing Android Wear smartwatches – which limits its appeal to anyone outside of the Windows 10 Mobile or Windows Phone 8.1 ecosystem.”

BUT, with Windows 11 now out, and rumours of a super-swish Surface Duo 2 appearing alongside Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 8 and Surface Book 4 at today’s live stream event, the time is perfect to fix these issues on a new Band 3.

Windows 11 is Microsoft’s latest desktop OS. It brings with it a new updated UI that looks similar to Mac OS, and, more importantly, cross platform support for Android apps. If Microsoft could find a way to make the Band work in a similar way, potentially with a Wear OS 3 skin optimised for Microsoft service, this could make it a very compelling device. After all, how cool would it be to have a watch to control your PowerPoint presentations while tracking your stress levels and morning workouts?

Microsoft’s already done this to Android on the first generation Surface Duo, so there is a precedent for it to take a similar approach on a wearable, which is why, despite a lack of credible rumours, I can’t help but hope I’ll see a Band 3 in the not too distant future.

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