A Tribute to the Pioneer of Fitness Wearables

Nike's Fuelband sparked an enduring tech/fitness revolution—but will it survive the industry's changes?

By Marty Patail July 17, 2014 Published in the Health Annual: Summer 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

In 2012, Nike introduced the Fuelband, a digital wristband with an accelerometer and the ability to talk to users’ iPhones. The new product was hailed as the sportswear giant’s foray into the burgeoning “wearables” market, where a new generation of smart devices would track, quantify, evaluate, and—the implicit promise—improve exercise habits. The Fuelband’s competitors, notably FitBit, counted steps and calories. Nike engineers envisioned a more holistic motivational tool: “Nikefuel”—a proprietary points system that estimates how much energy you exert regardless of what you’re doing. 

This spring, Nike laid off most of the employees responsible for the product. The Fuelband itself remains on the market—for how much longer, no one knows. But given speculation about a forthcoming deal to collaborate with Apple (CEO Tim Cook has been spotted wearing a Fuelband in the past, and sits on Nike’s board of directors), it’s likely that the concept behind Nikefuel—that a little benign electronic surveillance can improve your health—will survive in some kind of Nike-aligned iDevice. 

As the Fuelband itself heads for the great Betamax in the sky, a look at a typical day lived according to Nikefuel’s all-seeing scorecard

6:23 am: Wake up. What d’ya know? Looks like all that tossing and turning counts as exercise! (Fuel Points: 16)

7 am: Shower. The Fuelband can get wet (but not fully immersed). (Fuel Points: 44)

8:37 am: You’ve been sitting at your desk for an hour. (Fuel Points: 357) 

10:12 am: An inconsiderate coworker brought bagels. Maybe if you pump your arms up and down at your desk you can cancel out half of one. (Fuel Points: 689)

12:03 pm: It’s lunch, and you’re nowhere near cracking your daily Nikefuel goal of 2,500 (based on what other people in your age group earn on average). You take a long walk to that food cart you never go to. (Fuel Points: 1257)

2 pm: You’ve been sitting motionless in front of your computer. The tiny LED lights on the band blink to let you know it’s time to move around. (Fuel Points: 1354)

5:48 pm: Quittin’ time. You strap your Fuelband to your ankle for the bike ride home. (Fuel Points: 2100)

7 pm: In order to meet your goal, put on your (brand withheld) running shoes and go on a jog. Points accumulate very quickly now. (Fuel Points: 2847)

9:15 pm: You sync your Fuelband with your computer using the built-in USB port and charge it. A single charge lasts about five days. (Fuel Points: 3123) 

10:32 pm: Go to bed. Tomorrow is a new day. The future undoubtedly holds only more sophisticated ways to track and optimize your every move and breath. And your friends (big brothers?), the Nike Fuelband and its unknown successors, will be watching. (Fuel Points: 3287)

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