Joule: The Xbox Wearable that Never Was

During the World Series, game seven I believe, Microsoft made an oddly timed announcement of releasing what was the first generation Band. Before that device became a reality, there was the ‘Joule’, a prototype device that was born in the Xbox labs.

The Joule was never released but it shows the vision Microsoft had for its wearables; even though we could never buy it, this device does allow us to live in a fantasy world of ‘what if’ and how it could have changed the future for the company.

There is no doubt that this device was focused on exercise and this is the primary reason why it was moved out of the Xbox brand. Jumping into a time machine (and saving your notes) pays off here as I wrote…many years ago, the story of the birth of the Band after interviewing a few members of the team who created the first device; it was originally conceived that this device would interact with the Kinect too.

As this device evolved, it was clear, and I do agree, that it does not fit into the Xbox brand. It’s not a gaming device, it’s not a great accessory, it’s something different and thus, the ‘Band’ brand was born.

But, this device is special in its own unique ways. For starters, it’s square and resembles more of the Apple Watch than the Microsoft Band. It’s clear here that Microsoft understood this form factor would work and why they moved away from it is unknown but at least the Xbox team realized that square + wrist = a good thing.

It has all the features you would expect in 2018 but from a device in the 2014-era: GPS, heart rate monitor, a complete set of fitness tracking applications, and likely changeable wristbands. The button on the side turns the screen off and on but I suspect in a final version it may also get you back to the home screen as well.

On the side of the screen, there are two notches on each side of the display. It looks like there is an outer casing missing from the front of the display or what that could be is the attachment point for the wristbands.

The device supports swiping and tapping and that’s about all you can expect from a screen of this size. The heart rate monitor is reasonably accurate and is close enough to what my Apple Watch shows that I’m confident in its measurements.

There are several different modes such as FreePlay, which tracks you moving around (calories, location, ect) and workouts, but that part of the software was not fully completed; it asks you to subscribe to different styles of workouts that are not available.

In most cases, swiping down from the top offers a context menu or it will show you the time/date. The settings app only shows you ‘About’ information and lets you change the brightness. From a pure software perspective, you can tell that this is an early build of the software but it is a functional device which means it made it far enough along the development pipeline to get a bit of polish.

I will say that the interface is slow to respond to inputs and the screen is sub-par but again, this is a prototype. If you view the display from the side, the colors wash out very quickly and in bright light, the display can be hard to see. Even by 2014 standards, performance needed to be improved and gesture recognition refined as there were multiple misread inputs when playing with the hardware.

The back and the front housing are made of plastic and the screen may also be made of plastic; it doesn’t feel like glass. The heart rate monitor and charger are on the back of the device and it uses a 4-pin charger that vaguely reminds me of what the Surface RT used. And of course, there is a large Xbox branding on the plastic-back too.

One other minor feature is that it supports haptic feedback but it doesn’t appear to be fully implemented. When you turn the device on, there is a subtle vibration to let you know to let go of the side button but that’s the only time it operates.

The question remains if I think it was a good idea that the company abandoned this design and moved to what the Band became. That’s a tough question to answer as I do like the style and form factor much better than the Band but there are a lot of unknowns as well.

Most importantly, the price point. If this device were priced at $99, then it’s a no-brainer but I suspect it would be much closer to that of the Band at $250 or more…remember this was back in the 2014 timeline.

At the end of the day, this is a little post shines a bit of light into a Microsoft product that never-was. Would an Xbox branded device have performed better than the Band? While we will never know the answer to that question, considering the Band brand is dead, it’s hard to think it could have been any worse.

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Conversation 11 comments

  • darkgrayknight

    Premium Member
    07 February, 2018 - 5:40 pm

    <p>I really loved the Microsoft Band and Band 2. I miss wearing it, as it helped me keep tabs on text messages and incoming calls better than the phone which always seems far away or left in my jacket.</p>

  • PincasX

    07 February, 2018 - 6:50 pm

    <p>Given that Microsoft totally botched its attempt a wearables I don’t see how this would have done any better than the band. In retrospect the band was the wrong form factor and was just too limited. But the biggest failure was that the band was the bastard child of the Microsoft product line and they never seemed interested in making it a success. I don’t see any reason to think they would have tried to make this product work either. Given that they never released it I think it’s safe to say there heart just was not in the wearables market. </p><p><br></p>

    • Ugur

      09 February, 2018 - 3:31 am

      <blockquote><a href="#244042"><em>In reply to PincasX:</em></a><em> Saying the band was the wrong form factor is just off, i know lots of people who would have bought a device in that form factor (including me) if the device would have been sold in their country at all.</em></blockquote><blockquote>The main problem of the band was this typical half-hearted stance of MS where in many categories they so half heartedly release something, often only in one or very few territories and without proper marketing push at all ad then it doesn't sell gangbusters right away and so they cancel it within 1-2 gens.</blockquote><blockquote>Like as if they are not sure about it themselves or want the success to come first before they properly push it, but guess what, usually you have to push full force properly first, and sometimes even 3 or more gens before bigger success comes.</blockquote><blockquote>Just in case someone forgot, the iPhone took several gens to become a massive blockbuster, too, and that was despite it was released many years after many, many iterations of phones by others which Apple based a lot of things on of course, just like any contender does.</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>I don't have anything against a company cancelling a product when it turns out it was obviously a very bad idea and will never ever work, even with some tweaks and to be expected common progression.</blockquote><blockquote>Like let's say MS Kin or Windows RT or UWP in current form.</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>But then they have some other things which totally would be a big blockbuster when handled properly but then they just give up on it after half assed attempt on it, and well, when you do that too often, it gets to a situation where it becomes a self fullfilling prophecy: you release a new device type and noone gets behind it because all already up front expect it to fail and you not push it properly anyway so then it will be cancelled within 1-2 attempts anyway.</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>And yes, MS is very much in that position meanwhile, they cancelled so many devices and software products in half hearted way over the past 5 years, that meanwhile lots of people do totally expect for every new different type thing they try, and even many of their more profitabe/popular things that they could be changed over completely if not cancelled suddenly any time.</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>And that is not a good look/picture you want to deliver.</blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>MS really has to push hard and deliver and deliver consistently on several categories for quite a while to halfway change that impression again.</blockquote><p><br></p>

      • PincasX

        09 February, 2018 - 8:53 am

        <blockquote><a href="#244455"><em>In reply to Ugur:</em></a></blockquote><p>Maybe "wrong form factor" was poor wording on my part. I'll take a stab and elaborating what I meant. When the fitness wearables first hit the market they were all in the band form factor and fairly limited. I believe this was done to keep them from being overly expensive. There were more expensive fitness watches out there but they tended to be fairly specialized and were far more than the general consumer market was going to pay. So we saw Nike's fuel band, FitBit, Jabra … Then there was the introduction of the "smart watch" which really weren't overly fitness related and still expensive. </p><p>When the MS Band came out smart watches were getting more fitness features and fitness watches were becoming smarter. More importantly the price was coming down. So MS released the Band at the hight of the band form factor but the tide was moving toward watches. If you look at the market to day it is dominated by the watch form factor. Garmin, Fitbit, Apple, Polar etc.. all are in the watch business, some exclusively. The people that didn't make the jump to watches have left the business (Nike, Jabra). So, yes the band type form factor still exists as does the flip phone market but in both cases they are becoming more and more a niche form factor. So, while MS entered the market with he popular form factor of the day it did so at the tail end and that left them pretty flat footed. I think they should have gone with something more like what is featured in this article as that would have been better geared toward the future. Ironic that the product started not he right track when being developed. </p><p><br></p><p>Form factor aside, I think we pretty much agree otherwise. Microsoft has commitment issue at times when it comes to new products. </p>

  • dcdevito

    08 February, 2018 - 8:52 am

    <p>Wow, dat jank and lag :)</p><p><br></p><p>I almost bought a MS Band, I really liked it, but glad I never pulled the trigger. I never bought a smartwatch/fitness tracker, maybe someday.</p>

  • jwpear

    Premium Member
    08 February, 2018 - 9:39 am

    <p>Very cool insight into the design process at Microsoft! Thanks for sharing this, Brad.</p><p><br></p><p>I know it was controversial, but I liked the Band's rectangular screen. It was more private having it under the wrist. It was also easier to read the text (speaking as someone with older eyes and an astigmatism). I have a Fitbit Blaze now and some text (e.g. messages) is hard for me to see.</p>

  • Ron McMahon

    08 February, 2018 - 1:59 pm

    <p>I have the Microsoft watch that came before this one and WAS released…the SPOT watch. Live, updating connection to emails, news, stock prices, etc.</p><p><br></p><p>Too bad Microsoft didn't bring this to market…it would have been cool.</p>

  • jpwalters

    Premium Member
    08 February, 2018 - 6:25 pm

    <p>This is neat to see for sure! It's like when your favorite artist releases a CD of their "outtakes" of their songs you've come to know and love. But not sure I completely agree with the notion that this was a completely different direction than the Band itself. Perhaps the branding, the physical form factor, and some of the UI choices. But having owned a Band 2, much of this looks eerily familiar to me. The basic interface, home screen, font choice, icons do indeed look like what made it into the final product known as the Band. I thought the Band was a great device with some major reliability issues. I think had it been priced better and pushed harder it could have gone further. But it was really intended to gel with the Windows Phone ecosystem. Unfortunately if they knew they were killing off the phone, this device logically had to be the first on the chopping block. I think Microsoft again was a bit late to the wearables market, and when they showed up they were underprepared. Had this device had Nadella's support from the get-go perhaps it would have gone better. This was not the business Nadella wanted to be in and that seems obvious now though in 2014 when he was just taking over perhaps not. I think the Xbox branding and Kinect compatibility wouldn't have altered the course of history.</p><p><br></p><p>The shakeout in this industry happened pretty quickly and very brutally. It claimed a lot of good victims. For so, so many Fitbit and Apple got it right — I'd say Fitbit from the price and practicality and Apple for the premium side. Until a disruption comes again we'll see little from wearables. It will happen but when?</p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • Jeff Merritt

    14 February, 2018 - 2:31 am

    <p>I have to say, since leaping off WM 10 and landing in Samsung land…I felt the need to abolish all MS side projects aside from PC and Xbox. That being said I shelved my Band 2. My wife picked me up a Samsung Gear S3. I absolutely love it. A funny thing happened though…I tried working out with it once and it didn't do me any favors the form factor wasn't there. So I reached into my drawer and charged up my Band 2. Low and behold…it's not that bad of a fitness device. One glaring issue…the waterproofing. It doesn't have any. Aside from that it is a perfect fitness device for me. I would never swim with my watch on anyway. As long as the band on my Band stays intact I will continue to use it. It might not have the longest battery life but the GPS mapping when I bike or even the song skipping works for me. It's a shame MS didn't flesh out the Band product line to see what it could do. </p>

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    15 February, 2018 - 9:28 am

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  • helly

    26 March, 2018 - 1:50 am

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