Nike folds up FuelBand lineup, cedes wearables market to Apple

Nike says it’s ending its FuelBand line of wearable hardware products, instead focusing on developing software for wearable hardware from other vendors. FuelBand is perhaps the most prominent of the numerous app-enabled wearable exercise products to come to market over the past two years, and its demise is just the latest step backward for a market had briefly appeared to be the next big thing. Various recent studies have revealed that, to varying degrees, those who have purchased smartphone-integrated exercise products have largely stopped using them within the first six months of ownership. And while some of this can be attributed to the fact that individual exercise initiatives often come with a large degree of drop-off just as surely as New Years resolutions fade and gym memberships go to waste, it’s also the latest sign that wearable technology isn’t yet ready for prime time. And that places the focus squarely on the one prominent technology company which thus far has yet to participate.

Even as ambitious participants like Nike are folding up their wearable tents, and major tech industry players like Samsung and Sony have experimented with devices like smart watches with mostly negative results, Apple continues to bide its time and remain tight lipped on its vision for the wearable market. One theory is that Apple’s products simply aren’t ready for prime time yet, as the company is notorious for keeping a lid on its future product plans. But another theory is that Apple is waiting and watching as its competitors trip over themselves, so it can avoid making the same mistakes.

Apple is, with certainty, working on wearable products to be integrated with its iPhone and iPad devices. Six months ago Apple hired away one of Nike’s top FuelBand developers, long before Nike announced its plans to junk the FuelBand platform. Whether Apple hired him to design a similar exercise device, or whether his talents are being used for the development of more generalized wearable technology, remains to be seen. But the bigger question for Apple’s wearables is whether they can resonate with the mainstream – and stick for long enough to be considered more than a fad – in a manner which the current crop of wearables have collectively failed to accomplish.

This won’t be the first time in which Apple has stayed out of an emerging market for a few years before entering with an attempt at being the first player to reach the mainstream. New tech products tend to lean toward the geeky side, and tend to be adopted by geeks and specific professional niches accordingly, in their early years. Apple then waits until it feels the new technology has evolved enough to be presented without compromise, attempts to learn from others’ missteps, and delivers a product that’s far less geeky and more focused on intuitiveness than its predecessors.

The iPod arrived two years after other, geekier MP3 players like the Diamond Rio and the Archos made a splash with the tech crowd. The iPad arrived nearly a decade after Bill Gates threw down the tablet gauntlet during a CES keynote address. But the iPod and iPad are generally remembered as the pioneering MP3 player and tablet, respectively, because they were the first to resonate with mainstream users. Apple now faces the challenge of making the wearable technology market relevant outside of the current tech enthusiast market, without anyone having yet proven that such a market exists. Nike’s exit from the arena gives Apple one less competitor to worry about, and one more set of competitor mistakes to learn from. But it also means that Apple will be attempting to pull off what yet another billion dollar company couldn’t.

Apple preps iOS 8 and new mystery products for upcoming WWDC conference

Apple has confirmed early June for the 2014 edition of its WWDC conference, par for the course for the past decade plus – but this time the keynote could take a sharply different tone than in years past. The keynote address at Apple’s annual developer conference is typically a software preview session for Mac and iOS developers which coincidentally serves as a teaser for whatever new versions of its existing product lines will debut in the fall. Apple must reveal the nuts and bolts of its upcoming system software platforms to developers so they can gear their apps and software development accordingly in order to integrate the new technologies and features in time for the fall launch, but it makes a point of keeping as many of the details of its upcoming hardware under wraps as possible. That creates a summer atmosphere in which consumers are generally aware of what the next generation iPhones and iPads will deliver in terms of software while having no idea what the new products will look like. But this year’s WWDC in particular is ripe for a diversion from the norm, in the form of new mystery products apart from the inevitable iOS 8 preview.

The process of revealing the iOS 8 interface and core software features in advance creates a tricky tightrope for Apple, which doesn’t want sales of its existing iPhone and iPad generation to fall off too severely before the new hardware actually arrives. For instance last year’s summertime WWDC saw an extensive demonstration of iOS 7, but made no mention of which new products it would run on; the iPhone 5S and 5C weren’t officially shown off until just weeks before they shipped in October. But that becomes a different matter when entirely new products are involved.

When Apple first unveiled the iPad, it did so nearly three months before it began shipping. The lag time was used to gradually build hype for the new product, with no fear of cannibalizing existing sales because Apple didn’t already have a tablet product on the market at the time. Apple is widely rumored to be working on and close to readying new product lines ranging from smart televisions to smart watches. Any of these new products will require some level of support from third party developers, meaning that they could be initially introduced at this June’s WWDC. And even if they don’t ship until months later, Apple loses nothing by showing off the hardware designs now.

Until such time, speculation will continue to swirl regarding just which new areas Apple will indeed venture into. But the one sure bet for the WWDC is the unveiling of iOS 8. Last summer Apple introduced the biggest-ever overhaul of its mobile operating system in the form of iOS 7, leaving it with two possible directions to go in this time. One is to use iOS 8 as an opportunity to debut any software features which weren’t completed in time for last year’s ambitious release. The other is to essentially make iOS 8 a maintenance release, keeping in line with its pattern of essentially making every other iOS version a landmark. In the latter case, Apple would instead rely on a specific headlining feature to drive sales of the next iPhone and iPad, as it has done in past years with features like Siri and the fingerprint ID sensor.

One key question mark for WWDC is whether Apple will follow up last year’s OS X Mavericks, an update to its Mac computer system software, with another version. Apple’s new OS X versions have arrived at inconsistent intervals in recent years, meaning it could opt to wait until 2015 before deliver the Mavericks successor.

Miami Heat end regular season on cruise control

The Miami Heat ended its regular season by all but forfeiting its final game to one of the weakest teams in the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers, with a starting lineup cobbled from the deepest potions of its bench. Down by as many as twenty points in the second half of the game, the Heat had given the bulk of its minutes to players like James Jones and Shane Battier, numbers ten and nine in its rotation, while holding out stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh entirely. A mere week ago it appeared Miami was headed to the number one playoff seed after defeating the Indiana Pacers. But after a surprise loss in its following game coupled with a subsequent Pacers surge, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra opted to rest his stars for the final few games rather than chase a top seed that was no longer readily attainable. Now Miami faces the question of whether its season ending cruise control can be quickly revved back up for the start of the playoffs.

The Heat will face the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round of the playoffs, holding home court advantage and striking superior overall roster talent. But James, Bosh, and hometown hero Dwayne Wade haven’t started a game together in weeks, as each (particularly the aging Wade) has been assigned varying degrees of rest. That calculation came after Miami won its second consecutive NBA championship last season, but did so with several of its key players either nursing injuries or running on fumes. This season has seen Wade miss nearly every other game in order to keep his knees intact, and the team has generally treated most of the regular season like an extended preseason warmup. Now the team will find out whether that strategy has paid off: will the playoffs allow the Heat to prevail easily with the benefit of fresh legs, or is there now rust to be kicked off and chemistry to be recalculated?

Spoelstra has argued in recent postgame podium sessions that because the Heat’s core roster is largely identical to that of the past two seasons, the star players have plenty of experience playing together and should be able to coalesce in the playoffs just fine. It’s still not clear how much Wade will play in the early rounds. The Heat should be able to disperse with the Bobcats with or without Wade’s help, so it’s possible he could only appear in every other game. However the lack of playoff games on consecutive nights means that Wade will automatically get at least a day’s rest between each game.

That means Toney Douglas, a midseason addition who has absorbed the bulk of Wade’s starting minutes over the past two months, may have to adjust to a newly reduced role once the playoffs begin. Douglas started last night against the 76ers, and despite the ugly loss, continued to fill in adequately. Spoelstra will also have to decide when and how to use new additions Greg Oden and Michael Beasley in the postseason. Oden is widely thought to have been signed in order to bring bulk against the physical Pacers roster, but that’s a matchup that won’t happen prior to the Eastern Conference Finals. Beasley has seen his playing time reduced in the second half of the season as Douglas proved to be the more reliable Plan B option.

Second Google Glass wearer attacked, but circumstances remain isolated

For the second time this year, someone wearing Google Glass has been physically attacked in a manner which included violence toward Glass itself. But those who have early-adopted the wearable computing technology, or who are considering joining the fray once the product is released to the public later this year, shouldn’t worry about an epidemic of Glass related attacks just yet. As it turns out, both reported attacks thus far have come with their own caveat. The first came after an aggressive war of words, and the second was a direct result of someone tempting fate.

The first known Google Glass attack was first reported by Sarah Slocum herself via her social media pages just minutes after it happened. When the ultimately posted the Glass-captured video of the incident, it revealed that an angry exchange of words between patrons in a bar ultimately led to the attack. While it’s debatable as to whether Slocum or the other party was the bigger aggressor in the exchange, the Glass assault likely wouldn’t have happened if not for the verbal sparring.

The second Google Glass attack came this week as Kyle Russell’s Glasses were removed from his face and smashed, as reported by Mashable and others. But the details reveal that Russell is a journalist who went to investigate a group of anti-Google protestors, one of whom spotted the Google product on his face and proceeded to take his protesting to an extreme.

Over the several months there have been few thousand people testing Google Glass, wearing it out in public. Beyond sometimes visiting places of business who have asked them to remove the headgear due to privacy issues, Glass wearers have rarely incurred any trouble or controversy. As for acts of violence, Glass users appear to be safe so long as they don’t get into a shouting match while wearing it, or attempt to use it to report on a group of people who are in the act of carrying out an organized protest against Google and its products. That all adds up to a remarkably safe Google Glass user experience thus far for users who aren’t specifically looking for trouble.

Miami Heat soars to #1 playoff seed with Dwayne Wade conspicuously absent

As the Miami Heat scored the first sixteen points of the second half of last night’s NBA game against the rival Indiana Pacers to all but seal the number one playoff seed, one face was conspicuously absent – or more accurately, conspicuous by his attire. Dwayne Wade, the local face of the Heat franchise for the past decade and the MVP of its first championship run, sat courtside decked out in a suit and bowtie. If need be, Wade could have played. But as has been the case for nearly half the nights this season, Wade sat out in order to rest. He’s expected to be back in the starting rotation when the postseason begins next week, taking back the starting role he’s often been ceding of late to the less talented, but more consistently healthy, Toney Douglas. With the Heat gearing up for an attempted Finals three-peat followed by a transitional offseason, all eyes will be on Wade’s knees over the next two months.

While LeBron James is the brightest shining star in the NBA, there is a reason why his teammate Wade is still introduced last at Miami Heat home games. It was Wade who single handedly made a drifting franchise relevant when he was drafted in 2003. It was Wade who led the Heat (without LeBron) to its first Finals victory in 2006. And it was Wade who recruited James and Chris Bosh to come to Miami the last time they were all free agents. Win or lose in June, and the three are about to have the option to become free agents again. And Wade’s knees may play into those decisions as much as any other factor.

On paper there’s little reason for any of the three to opt out this year and sign with another team. Since coming to Miami, LeBron and Bosh have seen their reputations transformed from that of scorers to that of winners. It’s possible LeBron could return to Cleveland at the end of his career in order to make peace there, and it’s feasible that Bosh may at some point decide to try to take a lesser team to a championship on his own. But it’s difficult to picture either player wanting to step off the current Miami Heat championship-fest quite yet, as the team is built to win now.

But there will be at least some change to the Heat’s makeup this offseason. Shane Battier will likely retire. Ray Allen could do the same. Allen was brought in to split minutes with Wade in order to prolong both their careers, but of late those minutes have fallen to Douglas instead. That will of course change in the playoffs. But Wade is thirty-two years old, four years older than LeBron, and his knee issues are likely to be a factor for the remainder of his career. The question becomes how much more team president Pat Riley can do with minimum salary additions in order to keep Wade fresh for the postseason, and whether LeBron and Bosh are willing to accept that their fellow “big three” teammate may only be a part timer going forward.

At some point Riley will have to decide what to do with an aging face of his franchise. But if the Heat can win another ring this year with contributions from a well rested Wade, it may prompt his star teammates to stick around for the remaining two years on their contracts, punting any difficult decisions for Riley to 2016.

No apologies: Lorde shows her teen spirit by fronting Nirvana for Hall of Fame

After reuniting in 2012 to record a new song with Paul McCartney as their lead singer, the surviving members of Nirvana pulled off the only thing last night that could qualify as even more surreal: the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” group performed with an actual teenager. Seventeen year old Lorde, the high school girl from New Zealand who has risen to pop stardom over the past year with her songs Royals and Team, took the stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony with Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear to perform the band’s classic hit All Apologies.

Nirvana “reunions” have been sparse since the death of frontman Kurt Cobain and the subsequent demise of the group twenty years ago. Grohl has gone on to become better known as the frontman for his own group Foo Fighters, with Smear joining him on and off, and Novoselic finally appearing on a Foo Fighters album in 2012. The three teamed with McCartney to record “Cut Me Some Slack” for the soundtrack to the documentary Sound City, but aside from a Saturday Night Live appearance, the lineup was ultimately a one-time thing and never did include any performances of any classic Nirvana songs.

But Nirvana’s induction into the Rock Hall last night was a different matter. The context required that Nirvana songs be performed, which all but ruled out McCartney by default. So whom would Novoselic and Grohl tap as their frontman this time? Speculation over the past year pointed to everyone from fellow Sub Pop veteran Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, to Cobain’s mentor Michael Stipe of R.E.M. – And while Stipe did show up to give the induction speech, Nirvana proceeded to take the stage with a series of female singers in tow.

They recruited the hard rocking Joan Jett to sing Teen Spirit, along with Lorde, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, and St Vincent, each delivering their own versions of Nirvana’s hits. In hindsight it was the only move that made sense: asking any contemporary male rock singer, even the likes of Cornell or Stipe, to get up there and try to mimic Cobain would have come up short by any measure. By tapping all women, Nirvana ensured that each song would automatically sound different than Cobain’s versions. And by tapping Lorde, they reintroduced Nirvana’s legacy to her teenage fans.

It was a gamble which could have backfired. Would these veteran rockers in their mid forties look silly performing with a high school kid who hadn’t even been born yet when the song she was singing was popular? Could Nirvana be taken seriously with a singer who is several years younger than even Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean? But the understated performance, which quickly spread to YouTube as fans in attendance raced to record and upload it, instead reveals that a song like All Apologies is indeed as timeless twenty years later as we all thought it would be when it first released.

With Grohl married to Foo Fighters, and Novoselic having largely stayed away from the full time music industry for the past two decades, one has to wonder if last night’s induction was indeed the last hurrah for Nirvana reunions. But then again, which each such reunion turning out to be that much more surprising and surreal than the last, anything is possible.

Facebook strikes user discord after threatening to remove messaging from mobile app

Facebook says it will soon begin removing the messaging functionality from its official mobile apps for devices like iPhone and Android, in an attempt to force users to turn to its separate Messenger app instead, as a test in a handful of small nations. This is the latest attempt on Facebook’s part to boost the popularity of its standalone messaging app. Earlier this year Facebook released a new app update which, without warning, disabled messaging functionality within its flagship app for users who also had Messenger installed. While the goal was to motivate those users to go ahead and use the Messenger app full time, it had the opposite effect on at least some users, who figured out that messaging functionality could be restored by deleting the Messenger app entirely. Now Facebook is trying a heavier hand. If the immediate backlash among users upon hearing the news is any indication, the test run may be problematic.

“I downloaded messenger for a hot minute,” says Nicole Nelson. “It’s just easier to use messages within the mobile app.” Tim Robeson, an independent IT contractor, believes that forcing users to adopt Messenger would be “a really stupid move.” But Facebook appears intent on dominating the standalone messaging app market, having spent roughly twenty billion dollars last month to acquire Whatsapp, the dominant messaging platform in some Eastern nations where Facebook doesn’t dominate as a social network. The move was widely thought to be a backdoor attempt at boosting the popularity of Facebook in general in those regions. But coupled with the news that Messenger will now become mandatory for at least some users, it now appears that Facebook considers messaging its top priority.

That priority could put Facebook’s dominance as a social network at risk. In western nations where Facebook is the dominant social network, it also tends to dominate as a messaging platform by default due to the fact that it’s integrated directly into the social network and provides instant access to existing contacts. The standalone Messenger app provides access to those same contacts but requires users to jump between apps in order to browse status updates in one while reading or composing messages in the other. By forcing its users to keep exiting the official app in order to do messaging in external app, Facebook may unwittingly steer some of its users toward trying out competing messaging platforms. That in turn could erode the dominant hold that Facebook has on its billion users, ultimately motivating them to try out competing social networks such as Google+ once they’ve broken the chains on the messaging side.

It’s unclear what Facebook’s overall strategy is here. Its acquisition of rising specialty apps such as Instagram over the past two years initially looked like a mere attempt to prevent any of them from rising up to become full-on competitors. But if messaging is removed from the main Facebook app and moved strictly to the Messenger app, could the next move be for Facebook to remove the ability to post photos from the main app in favor of making Instagram usage mandatory? Those are the questions which users will have to ponder as Facebook’s messaging gambit continues to play out.

Agents of SHIELD finally ditches the “SHIELD” part in latest plot twist

Agents of SHIELD, the struggling television show which has served as a companion to the popular Marvel movie franchise, made three surprising moves in last nights episode appropriately titled Turn, Turn, Turn. The first saw one of the main characters switch sides. The second was an attempt at tying the TV show and the movie franchise together in a manner perhaps never before attempted. And the third shook up the backstory of the show so much that the “SHIELD” part of its name might as well be dropped. But how will each of these three moves play with the audience, and what do they mean for the Marvel movie franchise going forward?

The “turn” with perhaps the least impact on Agents of SHIELD, but the greatest impact on the movie franchise, is the fact that the events of the last two television episodes dovetail with the plotline of the newly released film Captain America: The Winter Solider. While they each deal with almost an entirely different set of characters, the changes going on within SHIELD are happening simultaneously within both plot lines. Turn, Turn, Turn more or less assumes that viewers went out and saw the movie within the past week, revealing plot points from the latter parts of the movie. That could prove problematic for those viewers who intend to see the movie but haven’t yet. With numerous additional Marvel movies on the horizon, including Avengers 2, will viewers of Agents of SHIELD feel punished for not going to see the movies on opening weekend?

While that question will take some time to be answered, the “turn” with the more immediate effect on the TV show itself is the essential dissolution of SHIELD itself. Throughout the show’s first season, SHIELD played the role of a dysfunctional bureaucracy which rarely offered Agent Phil Coulson and his team much in the way of help, while often withholding vital secrets in harmful ways. SHIELD itself had almost become the villain, and aside from Nick Fury doing the occasional humorous cameo to give Coulson a hard time, not a particularly interesting villain at that. The dissolution of SHIELD in last night’s episode at the hands of HYDRA, along with the apparent off-screen demise of Fury, means that Coulson and his team essentially are SHIELD. No more orders from headquarters, no more confounding missions, no more red tape being plastered across the team’s efforts at accessing the secrets they need in order to complete their mission. Come to think of it, no more missions period. Near the end of the episode, Coulson is asked what the mission is now. His answer: “Survive.”

But the third “turn” in last night’s episode may be the riskiest one of all for Agents of SHIELD. The rise of HYDRA has set up the show to now be essentially Coulson and his team against the HYDRA team, with the turncoat character portrayed by Bill Paxton ostensibly set up as the default chief weekly villain. But for reasons known thus far only to the writers, Agent Ward suddenly sides with Paxton at the end. Is Ward’s mind being controlled by HYDRA? Did he suddenly decide to choose his loyalty to Paxton over his loyalty to Coulson’s team? Or has Ward been a sleeper agent all along, with his entire first season tenure on the show an elaborate attempt at information gathering?

Suddenly, viewers are left unsure of just what they’ve been watching for the past season, and unsure of whether any of the pieces can be fit back together. Ward and Skye were seemingly about to become a genuine item, but this plot twist calls into question whether Ward was faking it all or whether he ever did have real feelings for Skye. It also likely means the two won’t be getting together any time soon. But moreover, it means that the existing chemistry between the main characters as we know it has been dissolved just about entirely. The only thing more jolting to a team of protagonists than the death of one of them is when one of them turns out to have been a villain all along.

Then again, the creative minds behind the Marvel movie franchise have shown an ability to shift certain characters such as Loki from protagonist to smirking villain back to reluctant protagonist again in a manner that’s remained credible. In fact after audiences watched Loki murder Coulson, only to see Coulson back from the dead and now the de facto head of SHIELD, it’s clear that the Marvel universe is one in which any amount of character evolution and reinvention seems possible.

Controversy erupts over iOS force-quit feature

Apple’s long controversial iOS force-quit feature on the iPhone and iPad has taken another turn this week when a former Apple retail store Genius affirmed that force quitting apps in such manner has no effect on background processes or battery life. In fact he claims that habitually doing so actually has negative effects. “It does shut down the app,” says Scotty Loveless on his personal blog, “But what you don’t know is that you are actually making your battery life worse if you do this on a regular basis.” He goes on to explain that doing so removes an app from the device’s RAM memory, forcing it to be reloaded the next time that app is launched, which requires additional battery power.

Since the force-quit feature was introduced, Apple has made clear that it’s only intended for use when an individual app is frozen or behaving oddly. Initially the feature was buried fairly deep within the Home button hierarchy. But as of iOS 7, Apple has made the feature more accessible; double clicking the Home button brings up an array of recently used apps, which can then be tapped on for launch or swiped away to be force quit. Numerous iPhone and iPad users have since mistaken this feature for being a method of preventing apps from running in the background, and thus a method of preserving battery life. That misguided advice has become a persistent myth.

One iPhone user, Angie Tuel, states that she was “led astray” by the misguided advice of a tech savvy family member and had been “obsessively clearing those pages several times a day” until she became educated on the specifics of iOS background tasks. Apple limits the ability of third party apps to function in the background except for specific functions such as refresh and push notification, and can be controlled in Settings on an individual per-app basis. In contrast, when scrolling through apps after double clicking the Home button, users are merely viewing a still image of the last thing they were doing in each app before leaving it.

But the confusion persists. Another iPhone user, Frank Miller, acknowledges that the confusion led him to visit an Apple Store Genius Bar in order to inquire whether he should force quit the apps in order to conserve battery life. He was advised to “Leave em be, no problem, they just there,” and was instead steered to the Settings app. But no matter the attempts on Apple employees (or a former Apple employee in the case of Loveless) at setting the record straight, a large contingent of users continue to express the belief that force quitting apps after each use is advisable. Apple may be left with no choice but to bury the force quit feature further back down into the interface, where it had quietly resided through iOS 6, when it launches the eventual successor to iOS 7.

NCIS makes third spinoff attempt amid mixed results

NCIS is has been one of the more popular shows on network television over the past decade, but attempts on the part of CBS at expanding the fictional show’s universe have been met with mixed success. The latest attempt, starring Scott Bakula and based in New Orleans, concluded its attempt at a two part backdoor pilot last night.

Bakula’s laid back and informal character Dwayne Cassius “King” Pride has been worked in as an old friend and colleague of franchise honcho Leroy Gibbs, aimed at getting the existing NCIS audience to accept him based on the fact that their beloved characters all know and like him already. Pride’s sidekick is about as opposite as Gibbs sidekick Tony DiZonno as possible: he’s ultra serious, doesn’t smile, and speaks with a purposeful southern accent conveying old school discipline. The pair are rounded out by supporting characters who may or may not make it into the actual series. And that’s if the series even happens.

The first attempt at an NCIS spinoff, based in Los Angeles, was picked up and has gone on to score popular ratings for the past five years. But it’s still not clear how many viewers of NCIS: LA would be tuning in if not for the fact that it airs directly after the original series. And the show went through numerous supporting cast changes early on before finding its chemistry.

Last year’s attempt at a spinoff set in a roving mobile lab called “Red” predictably didn’t get picked up as a series; its characters each felt like derivatives of existing characters on other televison networks.

This time around may be different. Bakula instantly evokes nostalgia among those old enough to recall Quantum Leap. Fans of the Star Trek franchise are still divided when it comes to his star turn in the spinoff Enterprise, even as he attempts to helm another spinoff. Will the NCIS universe embrace King Pride more than Captain Archer? CBS will have to make a decision on whether to pick up the series first.