The writing is on the wall for Microsoft’s foray into fitness tracking wristbands. Band 1 was largely regarded as the worst of its class, with entirely forgettable design, hefty weight and a poor fit. Its features were abundant, but the team at Microsoft seemed to forget that proposed 24/7 trackers are as much about the form as they are the function. Band 2 addressed this problem fairly well, but has seen nothing like the sales numbers it needed to compete with the likes of Fitbit and, seemingly, has now been discontinued, with existing stock exhausted and no plans to release any more incarnations.
The band was an early part of Microsoft’s quite painstaking push to be recognized as a serious hardware manufacturer. It’s a pledge that’s come a long way, with a diverse range of products now available, from its laptops to its AR headset. In fact, the HoloLens may be the company’s most exciting product, with by far the most potential down the line. Essentially, Satya Nadella and co. have cut their losses on fitness wearables before the project becomes a wasteful stain on the company’s image. But why is it that some projects tank and others explode even before they’ve properly begun?
Take LVL, for example. The band, from BSX Technologies, monitors everything from calories burned down to the wearer’s hydration level. It uses infrared technology, which the company claims can look 10 times deeper into the body when compared to the more common green light used in other trackers, and means it can accurately measure hydration and let wearers know how much water they need to drink to perform at an optimum level.
‘While preparing for one of our first major block exams, I woke up with an incredible headache that was not uncommon to me, spending sixteen hours a day hunched over a desk staring at super-small font,’ CEO of BSX Technologies, Dustin Freckleton, said. ‘But that day felt a little bit differently.’ Freckleton suffered a dehydration-induced stroke, which didn’t cause permanent damage but left him having to learn to walk again. He founded the company shortly after this, before spending four years developing LVL using the technology not found in other wearables. LVL blew its Kickstarter target out of the water, raising $823,000 (and counting) having asked for just $50,000. The product will begin shipping in early 2017 at $199, and it seems destined to be a success.
What sets it apart from Microsoft’s Band then? Freckleton has said that he believes being a small startup afforded them luxuries not available to larger companies, and therein lies the crucial difference. Free from the likes of market pressure, hype, and speculation, BSX was able to develop its product properly which makes it feel far less rushed than its more high profile competition. The personal genesis of the product also adds something; it doesn’t feel like a company putting out a wearable to keep up with competition, rather it looks to solve a problem experienced all too acutely by its designer.
LVL is unique in a way that Band isn’t. The infrared technology is impressive and the design is arguably the finest to hit the market to date - the wristband has the option of a leather strap that’s a cut above the silicon found on most other fitness trackers, and its hydration display is stylish. Band blurred into the wave of wearables put out by large companies in the past few years, and its problems were only highlighted by that fact. LVL is a truly original offering honed over a number of years and consumers notice the difference.