By Jim Karpen on Tue, 04/29/2014
The rumblings began 10 days ago when Nike, as reported by CNET, laid off 70–80 percent of the employees working on their Nike FuelBand, one of the more popular fitness trackers. Plus, they acknowledged they would be stopping development of the hardware side of fitness tracking, though indicated they planned to continue selling the second-generation FuelBand SE. That move raised lots of eyebrows, and some even speculated that Apple's rumored iWatch was a factor. Then, last week GeekTime reported that Apple and Nike are gearing up for an announcement this fall of a "smart band." The website claims to have received this information from two sources in Cupertino, where Apple is located. According to the report, "Apple is looking to launch a smart band toward the end of this year whose collection of sensors will be able to be used not only to monitor the activity of the wearer, but also to operate other devices as a gestural controller."
So this is getting interesting, but still on the level of rumor. But then, in an interview with CNBC last Friday, Nike CEO Mark Parker talked about Nike's relationship with Apple. He was asked if the two companies would be collaborating on a device, he said, "I can’t really say that. There’s been a lot of speculation, which I understand. I will just say the relationship between Nike and Apple will continue. And I am personally—as we all are at Nike—very excited about what’s to come."
That at least confirms that the two companies have a relationship. And his Tim-Cook-speak "very excited about what's to come" is the sort of nondenial that seems meant to stoke interest. In addition, Cook has been on the Nike board for nine years, and in the past he's talked about the fact that he wears a FuelBand and that he thinks it's a great product.
So are they partnering on a device? The question is, Why wouldn't they? Apple has clearly invested a lot of resources in fitness and medical sensor technology and research in the past year. And Nike has experience developing the software for such a device. Plus, Apple has explicitly said they're interested entering the market for wearables.
It will be interesting to see what develops. The New York Times blog reported on Sunday that fitness trackers are notoriously inaccurate. This could be one more instance in which Apple enters an established market and gets it right.