Nike FuelBand’s Demise: End of Wearable Tech or a Sign of Bigger Things?

On Friday the wearable technology industry was rocked by news that sportswear heavyweight Nike is canning its wearable fitness tracker FuelBand SE.

The company is laying off between 70% and 80% of its Digital Sport hardware team, which is behind the company’s wearable fitness offerings, and has cancelled updated versions of the FuelBand that had been planned for release later this year.

The news, which was first reported by CNET, has shaken the wearable technology industry. Sports has long been seen as the primary market for wearables, with many analysts predicting that other uses will become mainstream after the technology has become normal in fitness.

But with Nike – one of the major players in wearable technology – pulling out, some are seeing this as the end of an industry that has barely started. Others, however, think Nike has taken a look at where the industry is going to go and has made a strategic decision to reposition before the game changes.

With Nike keeping quiet about its motives, we’ve collected the leading theories on what the company is planning.


iWatch incoming: did Tim Cook persuade Nike to ditch FuelBand?

Apple’s foray into wearable technology is expected later this year in the form of the iWatch, a wristband with iPhone connectivity. Assuming that occurs, the iWatch is likely to have a very big impact on the wearable technology market, potentially putting some rivals out of business.

Nike is keeping its fitness software around, leading some to reason that the company is planning to focus on software for the iWatch instead  and avoid taking Apple on at hardware. Forbes quoted wearables analyst Daniel Matte of Canalys Research as saying: “Competing with Apple on hardware is a very unappealing prospect.”

Nike wouldn’t even need to rely on rumour to know about the iWatch – Apple CEO Tim Cook sits on the Nike board and may well have dropped a few hints.

Death of wearables: did Nike abandon a dying industry?

For some, however, Nike’s move to can FuelBand is just a wider reflection of the industry as a whole.

According to this theory, Nike took a good look at the wearables industry – including the low sales, quick decline in use and general consumer hostility – and ran in the other direction.

Only time will tell if this one is right, but something tells us that this is more of a software vs hardware discussion than a wearables vs no wearables one.

Super software: canning hardware for a softer solution?

All of the employees that were fired were in the hardware division of a wider, larger software department that (apparently) has not been affected by Nike’s mysterious repositioning.

The company may be focussing more on fitness apps, which will no doubt be in part for Apple’s iPhone and possibly the iWatch.

However, Nike is also releasing the API for Nike+ later this year. The company may be planning to make its software into the standard for sports wearables, and take a backseat on hardware.

Poor planning: was the project just handled badly?

A post on anonymous sharing app Secret from last week also suggests that this was just a case of a mishandled project.

The anonymous poster, who is likely to be a current or ex Nike employee, said:  “The douchebag execs at Nike are going to lay off a bunch of the eng team who developed The FuelBand, and other Nike+ stuff. Mostly because the execs committed gross negligence, wasted tons of money, and didn’t know what they were doing.”

Images courtesy of Nike+.

Wi-Power: Wireless charging now possible at a distance of five metres

The ability to wirelessly charge devices is now available at a distance of five metres thanks to researchers who have extended the maximum possible range.

The technology, which has been developed by researchers in Korea, could lead to ‘Wi-Power zones’ in the future according to one member of the team behind the hardware.

It is hoped these zones could become as popular as Wi-Fi points have for internet access.

Professor Chun T Rim, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, said the team’s work can charge 40 smartphones at once – with a power source that’s five metres away.

If successfully commercialised, it will lead to wireless charging zones being installed around cities and in shops.

The latest developments will certainly attract the attention of mobile phone manufactures who have been experimenting with wireless charging for some time now – there are more than 60 types of phones that use Qi wireless charging at present.

However wireless charging could be used to power almost any electronic device once the technology has been developed further.

Professor Rim said: “Our technology proved the possibility of a new remote power delivery mechanism that has never been tried at such a long distance.

“Although the long-range wireless power transfer is still in an early stage of commercialisation and quite costly to implement, we believe that this is the right direction for electric power to be supplied in the future.”

The professor added: “Just like we see Wi-Fi zones everywhere today, we will eventually have many Wi-Power zones at such places as restaurants and streets that provide electric power wirelessly to electronic devices.

“We will use all the devices anywhere without tangled wires attached and anytime without worrying about charging their batteries.”


The researchers at the Korean institute have built upon work by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which used a Coupled Magnetic Resonance System (CMRS) to transfer energy wirelessly. They developed a system where the coil system is simplified and also reduced in size.

In the new set-up, called Dipole Coil Resonant System (DCRS), two coils are employed to solve the problems in the previous system. The new primary coil induces a magnetic field and a secondary coil is to receive electric power.

Tests show that under the operation of 20kHzm, the maximum output power was 1,403w at a distance of 3 metres. While at five metres the power output was 209w.

The new developments are also smaller than previous models and at present are three metres in length, 10cm in width and 20cm in height. The researchers say the technology is scalable.

Video and image three courtesy of KAIST.