Report: Apple taps Nike Fuel Band designer for wearable device project

Rumors of a smartwatch from Apple(s aapl) are nothing new, but a new report just made them seem a lot more tangible. Mark Gurman from 9to5Mac is reporting that Apple has just hired Nike(s nke) design director Ben Shaffer. Under Shaffer’s lead Nike built wearable devices like the popular Nike Fuel Band. This begs the question: can the iWatch be far behind?

Apple has long had a close connection with Nike, including Nike+ integration in its iPhone and iPod lines. Nike was also mentioned on stage at the recent iPhone announcement to highlight the Apple’s new M7 motion coprocessor in the iPhone 5s. Apple CEO Tim Cook has also been on Nike’s board of directors since 2005.

It is unclear exactly what role Shaffer will play at Apple, but given his expertise in wearable design, he will likely be involved in the development of a smartwatch. Earlier this year Tim Cook expressed interest in the idea of a smartwatch, calling the market “ripe for exploration.”

Apple has filed for patents for wearable sensors, and has even filed a trademark in Japan for “iWatch.” Recent rumors have tipped the watch for a 2014 release.