Data, Sensors and Shoes: Conjecture Behind Nike’s Rumored Departure from Wearable Devices

April 25, 2014
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Anyone over 40 years old remembers the 1986 Nike television ad featuring Michael Jordan and Spike Lee, with Jordan performing feats of basketball prowess wearing his signature Air Jordans and inspiring awe from Lee, who verbalized “it’s gotta be the shoes” – advertising lore was born on the back of the Nike + Michael Jordan affiliation.

Anyone over 40 years old remembers the 1986 Nike television ad featuring Michael Jordan and Spike Lee, with Jordan performing feats of basketball prowess wearing his signature Air Jordans and inspiring awe from Lee, who verbalized “it’s gotta be the shoes” – advertising lore was born on the back of the Nike + Michael Jordan affiliation.

(Source: Deviantart)

Almost 30 years later, we’re borrowing that phrase to inject some humor into the recent news of Nike walking away from its Fuelband product line.  We may not know the driver behind this move, but speculate that it may either be the realization that the wearable fitness sensor wasn’t driving sneaker sales, or Nike grasping the challenges of selling an electronic device. When chatting about the Nike rumor yesterday with Rob McCray at the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance, he opined “building devices is a lot harder than making shoes”.

Here are a few additional thoughts.

  • The trend that was.  In 2011 just as the Quantified Self movement was cresting, TripleTree was following over 120 activity monitoring solutions that were worn:
    • On bicep
    • On head
    • On wrist
    • In shoe
    • On chest
    • Embedded into clothing
    • Various other locations
  • Activity monitoring has become a feature.  Today, we don’t track that category as closely anymore because wearables – while still a market – have been consolidated into a small handful of players (Fitbit, Jawbone, Runkeeper, etc), and with Apple’s new iPhone M7 sensor as the latest disruption.
  • One of the consolidators.  In January of 2013, Body Media was acquired by Jawbone to fold its unique IP into an array of products and solutions.  BodyMedia was an early pioneer in on-body monitoring, and given changing dynamics in the market it could likely be one of the last such firms to find a strategic exit.
  • It’s all about software and openness.  Six months ago, MapMyFitness was acquired by UnderAmour to help that company “deliver game-changing solutions to how athletes train and perform”.  In connected health, silo is a four letter word, meaning that proprietary sensor data collected in a closed system is antithetic to how successful software platforms are gathering data, and enabling care and better communication.  In healthcare, proprietary sensor data collected in a closed system is antithetic to the successful care-centric software platforms whose openness defines their growth and success.
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The punchline?  Nike has likely realized that as a shoe maker and marketer they can better serve consumers by partnering with device makers rather than competing with them. Many smart devices can do multiple tasks where Fuelband was limited to one thing, and it wasn’t a world beater. For Nike, “it’s gotta be the shoes”, and we’re predicting the Nike + Apple partnership (which was already meaningful) may become much more formidable.

Acknowledging that Nike is one of the most iconic and successful retailers in the world, it’s important to assert that any entry and exit from healthcare may not be defined by Fuelband.