Nike's rumored FuelBand exit is likely onramp to Apple's iWatch

By Brian Dolan
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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsOver the past few days much has been written about Nike reportedly laying off a majority of its FuelBand engineering team -- a story that CNET exclusively broke late last week. According to the report, as many as 55 engineering employees of Nike's 70-person strong hardware team were let go or possibly recruited by other divisions within Nike.

CNET also 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.

“The Nike+ FuelBand SE remains an important part of our business," Nike said in a statement in reaction to the reports. "We will continue to improve the Nike+ FuelBand App, launch new METALUXE colors, and we will sell and support the Nike+ FuelBand SE for the foreseeable future. Nike is committed to Nike+, to NikeFuel and to driving innovations that bring richer experiences for all athletes. We will continue to leverage partnerships to expand our ecosystem of digital products and services, using NikeFuel as the universal currency for measuring, motivating and improving."

It's well known that Nike has long had a cozy relationship with Apple. Apple CEO Tim Cook has sat on Nike's board for nine years, and he has been spotted wearing a Nike FuelBand in years past. Some version of Nike's Nike+ software has been featured at almost every major launch of new Apple devices over the years.  Nike also responded to questions about working with Apple: 

“Partnering with industry-leading tech companies is nothing new for Nike. We have been working with Apple to develop products since 2006, when we introduced Nike+ Running, and Nike has since created iOS Apps including Nike+ Training Club, Nike+ FuelBand and Nike+ Move,” the company said in a follow-up statement.

In February 2013 I made (what is becoming an increasingly obvious) prediction that if Apple does launch a wristworn device like the rumored iWatch, it would feature tight integration with Nike+ and include many of Nike's FuelBand's features. At the time it wasn't clear to me that such a move would potentially require a winding down of Nike's own wristworn device.

Recently Nike has bolstered it Nike+ community with a Nike+ focused accelerator -- which pivoted to become the Nike Fuel Lab -- and plans for a Nike+ API.

Given Apple's recent hiring of various digital health experts for its rumored iWatch, Nike's layoffs may be Apple's gain. Apple already has at least two well known former Nike employees onboard -- Jay Blahnik, a well-known fitness consultant who helped create Nike’s FuelBand and Michael Tchao, who worked with Blahnik on the FuelBand and Nike+ but returned to Apple in 2009.

If the FuelBand rumors are true and Nike is pulling back on hardware to focus on its various Nike+ software offerings, tight integration with Apple's iWatch -- should it come to launch -- is all but assured.