Fuelband fail doesn’t mean death of wearables

25 Apr

Nike_Fuel_BandThere were a few proclamations earlier this week that wearable technology is dead in light of the news that Nike appears to be shutting down its Fuelband efforts, at least on the hardware side. The company denies it’s doing so, but it’s hard to see much of a future for the exercising-tracking wristband following the axing of most of the staff associated with it.

Yahoo Finance, for one, says the move kills the wearable revolution “before it even begins,” with writer Jeff Macke listing reasons for why fitness bands are just overblown hype. Chief among them: nobody actually wants to go through the hassle of tracking their activity.

As luck would have it, I’ve just finished testing a range of fitness bands, including the Fuelband, for a piece I’m writing. While I can agree with some of the sentiment behind such proclamations, it’s definitely off base to declare wearables DOA because of Nike’s woes.

I certainly have no love for smartwatches, which are a bad idea that’s difficult to execute for several reasons – as in, nobody wants to charge their watch every day, while companies such as Samsung don’t and may never cut it as fashion brands. Fitness bands, however, are one sub-category of wearables that have actually been seeing success.

According to Canalysis, the U.S. market for them alone is expected to grow to 45 million units shipped by 2017, from 17 million this year. The reason is simple: the devices are generally straightforward, do a few things well, and are inexpensive. Smartwatches are the opposite of all of those.

The potential of a market can often be measured by the number of viable competitors operating within it. In that vein, fitness bands are a hot property, with close to 10 viable competitors in the running, including Nike, Fitbit, Jawbone, Samsung and even Sony. As Mashable notes, Nike won’t be the only one who drops out of that tight race – more losers are inevitable.

The fact that Nike looks to be bowing out is hardly a surprise, since the Fuelband has been a considerable laggard for some time. Of the five bands I recently tested, it’s the only one that didn’t track sleep, didn’t have an Android app (it’s iOS only) and the only one for which I had to call tech support – its setup, which requires the launch of a desktop app, was amazingly confusing. None of this is really surprising – Nike isn’t a technology company, after all.

Even with their success so far, fitness band makers in general still have much work to do, which is why I agree with some of the complaints in the Yahoo article. Most bands require frequent recharging and/or manual inputs to start some of their tracking functions, both of which are disincentives for long-term use.

Some, like the Misfit Shine – which is fully automatic with its step and sleep tracking and uses a watch battery for up to four months of power – are fixing these issues. These are the truly smart devices that are likely to squeeze out the likes of Nike and drive the fitness band category toward their expected growth.

Wearables aren’t dead by any stretch, it’s just the weaker options that are inevitably falling by the wayside.

1 Comment

Posted by on April 25, 2014 in health


One response to “Fuelband fail doesn’t mean death of wearables

  1. Infostack

    April 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I’ve only limited experience with wearables (UP, Pebble, Glass, Narrative, Bicycle Computer/Monitor) and I agree with everything you say. Aside from all the little issues, the biggest problems with all of them is they don’t think out of their app silos to let the end-user adapt the device or app to fit their particular needs. Call this a form of network effect of being able to tie the experience or data across other apps, or devices, and of course across and to other people. Not easy things to do, but I see them being too centric to the device, or app, or person.

    For instance, UP, the app that now very effectively dictates my daily sleep and activity habits doesn’t allow me to manipulate my data on a desktop app and make it easy to tie to other apps or groups. I can see that without these capabilities, people will lose interest over time as it is tough to stay the course alone. However, networking the data keeps people involved just like they stay involved with facebook or twitter or any other 2-way communications medium. In other words network effect.

    This arguably is a criticism for all apps in general. The app ecosystem will begin to look more like the web (series of searchable html links and interactions) over time. Chris Dixon recently raised this debate over apps and it got a lot of press. I think Nike recognized this and they’re signaling they want to open the silo. Makes sense.

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