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.