Nike drops "Band" from Nike+ Fuel app, adds HealthKit, goes device-free

By Jonah Comstock
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Nike Fuel appNike has updated its Nike+ Fuel app for iOS for the first time since September, adding connectivity with Apple HealthKit, new social sharing features, and, in keeping with a recent fitness band trend, the option to eschew the Nike+ FuelBand hardware entirely and track movement via sensors embedded in the user's smartphone. The app has also dropped "Band" from its name, further distancing the company from its device.

That it's taken Nike this long to update its Fuel app to integrate with Apple HealthKit is surprising, especially considering that Apple Health has included Nike+ Fuel as a supported metric -- the only such branded metric it supports -- since its beta launch in June.

The other part of the update, the FuelBand-free tracking, brings Nike in line with Fitbit and Jawbone, both of which have launched device-optional app updates in the last year and a half.  Built-in movement tracking for the Nike app is enabled for users with the iPhone 5s or later.

While the Nike+ FuelBand is still available for purchase, the company hasn't come out with a new edition in some time, and it laid off much of the device's engineering staff last spring. At the time CNET reported, citing anonymous sources, that Nike has pulled the plug on all future iterations of the FuelBand and all future physical devices under development in its Digital Sports division. In a statement, Nike professed continued support for existing devices, but didn't deny the charge.

This latest development -- re-tooling the app to support tracking via built-in sensors and dropping "Band" from the app's name -- makes it increasingly clear that Nike is moving away from hardware and pouring its energy into software instead.

The timing of the update gives Nike some lead time in developing its long-expected app for the Apple Watch, due out in April. The timing is also important in light of the fact that Under Armour, an up and coming Nike competitor, just bought two major fitness tracking apps, bringing its total portfolio to three. Viewed in that light, Nike's apps are facing more direct competition than ever before.

The new social feature, called Sport Feed, will allow Nike+ users to share photos and updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram via the app, and post status updates to friends within the app.

As of now, none of the new features have been implemented in Nike's corresponding Android app, which is still called the Nike+ FuelBand app.