Nike+ moves from app to platform with four new device partners

After going it alone with health tracking hardware, Nike is expanding relationships to use its Nike+ app with non-Nike devices. The company announced four new hardware partners on Friday — Garmin, Tom Tom, Wahoo Fitness and Netpulse — with a new “Partners” app feature to connect the Nike+ app with third-party devices.

The updated Nike+ Running App makes pairing with the new partners easy. Users will see a “Partners” screen when they update or download the app. The “Connect a Partner” button guides users to settings to manage preferences and establish the seamless connection between Nike+ and the partner apps and devices.

The idea here is to expand the use of Nike+ and give the app’s users more freedom to choose a wearable device or software platform. That’s a sharp change from Nike’s several-year approach of exercise tracking with devices ranging from footpod step-trackers and, more recently, its FuelBand wearable band.

Change has been in the wind for some time, however, as [company]Nike[/company] first kept its software limited to [company]Apple[/company] iOS devices for several years and recently releasing a Nike+ app for Android. And roughly a year ago there were reports of Nike abandoning its own hardware efforts and laying off much of the Fuelband team. As a long-time runner, I welcome the change from app to platform; it’s long overdue.

Study says: Don’t buy a fitness tracker, just use your phone

Pretty much every fitness tracker on the market does the same thing: Using an accelerometer, it tracks how many steps you’ve taken, and from that accelerometer data, usually can extrapolate distance traveled as well as calories burned. Of course, your smartphone has an accelerometer, so why do you need a Fitbit, or a Jawbone Up 24, or a Misfit Shine? According to a new research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, you don’t — smartphones can track steps just as well as a dedicated fitness tracker.

The study looked at 10 different trackers — four smartphone apps and six fitness trackers, including the Moves app (now owned by Facebook) for iOS and Android, multiple Fitbit models and the Nike Fuelband. The researchers — some of whom are still medical students — strapped several trackers to the subjects, who then walked on a treadmill for 500 steps, and then 1,500 steps, twice. Ultimately, the 14 participants in the study ran 56 trials (four treadmill runs each) meaning that there were 560 gadget step-reading data points.

The study found that phones, either running the Moves app, Fitbit app, or the Health Mate app, were as accurate as the dedicated step tracking hardware, and most of the trackers were within 10 percent of each other — except for the now almost-discontinued Nike Fuelband, which recorded steps that were over 20 percent lower than the observed steps and other devices.

One interesting tidbit from the study: In eight of the 560 device trials, the gadget wasn’t properly configured to record steps, which lines up with my personal experience that your step tracker will not be working around one percent of the time. There’s also a chance that the study’s findings could be affected by configuration settings — for instance, Fitbit’s option to tell it that you’re wearing it on your dominant wrist.

This study’s not going to be the be-all and end-all for step tracking accuracy. In fact, this study observing 10 women and four men recruited at a college isn’t all that different from certain anecdotal evidence, like this informal experiment conducted last year by science journalist Rachel Feltman. In my experience, most wearable tracker manufacturers know there’s a roughly 10 percent difference between various step readings, which is more than accurate enough for early adopters and techies. But this study underscores the fact that as wearable devices and step trackers infiltrate the healthcare system, more academic research will be required.

Nike has reportedly fired most of its FuelBand team and is getting out of the hardware business

Nike has let go most of the members of its FuelBand wearables unit and will stop developing new versions of the device, according to a report by CNET. The tech news site quoted an unnamed person “familiar with the matter” as saying that the firm has laid off 70 to 80 percent of its 70-person hardware division and will not produce a new version of the FuelBand, but will continue to sell the existing version. Some industry observers believe Nike has decided to align itself with Apple, which is expected to launch an iWatch or other wearable device that might run Nike’s Fuel software. Apple CEO Tim Cook is a member of Nike’s board.

The part of wearables that geeks forget about: not looking like a tool

The emergence of wearables — connected devices you wear on your body — is sweeping big tech companies like Google and Apple, as well as startups like Misfit Wearables. But if the devices are just plain dorky-looking they’re going to struggle to break into the mainstream.

A new battery that could revolutionize wearables

A young battery startup called Imprint Energy has designed a new type of battery that uses zinc and can be screen printed. It’s innovation could enable entirely new types of wearable electronics.

After being down, Jawbone’s UP gets back up again

Jawbone is coming back to the market with a brand new (and much improved) version of its much maligned UP wearable device that tracks your personal data including time spent walking. This time, it faces considerable challenge from Nike’s increasingly popular, Fuelband.