Nike CEO Hints At Collaborative Future For FuelBand

For the development of the FuelBand, Nike partnered with a slew of outside companies. CEO Mark Parker hints that more partnerships could be in the device's future.

The Nike FuelBand is one of the more promising products in wearable computing. But as larger technology rivals—from Samsung to Google to Apple—enter the space, can an outlier like Nike still continue to compete?

That was the subject of a response from Nike CEO Mark Parker at Fast Company's recent Innovation by Design conference, where he was asked about Nike's digital future. Consumers and critics have lauded Nike for making the unexpected and difficult pivot from an athletic apparel company to one that's also focused on hardware, software, and services. But as Parker explained on stage, he's fully aware of Nike's digital limitations—and therefore isn't opposed to partnering with others where it makes more sense.

Mark ParkerImage Courtesy of Nike

"It's really important to understand what we do well . . . what we bring to the party, so to speak, and actually amplify that, " Parker said, "and not to expect [us] to really go in and compete with the latest, greatest development of sensor technology."

The revelation indicates that Nike knows it can't compete with the big R&D budgets of tech giants. The company isn't creating the next iWatch, after all. But while it's certainly putting more than a toe in the water of the wearable space, Parker knows Nike may need help to take a deeper dive. "This is going to be an opportunity for us to extend collaboration and partnerships with others—in fact, I would say any companies, any businesses, really looking to realize [their] full potential in the innovation space need to have a very open mind to the types of collaborations and partnerships that are going to enable that potential," Parker said. "It's been a really important breakthrough for us over the last 15 to 20 years to recognize that we can only do so much on our own."

Indeed, Nike has a long history of partnering with innovators for projects seemingly outside its core business. For the FuelBand, it teamed with a range of companies, including Astro Studios, R/GA, Whipsaw, and Synapse. The most famous example, however, is its collaboration with Apple on Nike+, the company's early foray into digital sport products. Perhaps Parker's comments foreshadow another future partnership with Apple, which is reportedly developing its own wearable device. If Apple's product (or one of its competitors' products) renders the FuelBand and similar fitness devices obsolete, then it's inevitable that Nike will need to partner with another company to keep a stake in the game.

Whereas Jawbone, which recently acquired fitness monitoring company BodyMedia for $100 million, seems intent on forging its own path, Parker is uniquely aware of the potential if not the necessity for partnering with companies such as Apple.

"[When you] collaborate with people deep, deep, deep into specific areas, and you can pull those pieces together to create something truly unique and different, that's when the magic starts to happen," he said. "It's really important for us to always understand, What's our rudder in the water?"

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  • Mike

    To be truthful most of these companies are on only part of the right track. The area that the fuel band is in is health, but it bordered on the beginnings of where smart watches play. A large set of strategic alliances in the personal mobile health industry is needed to be able to push forward. I am working on a blog on the quantified self forums that discusses how the Zeo sleep monitor could have done much better at what it was about. The Zeo was about getting better sleep. The same concepts that I am talking about there are applicable to the health side of the Nike Fuel Band. You can find a link to the blog on Twitter on the @Zeo area. Please feel free to stop by and see how what I am discussing can be applied to the Fuel Band.

  • Mike Post

    My take - Nike are already partnering up with Apple on their iWatch. But are then going to dispense of their FuelBand...yes. It WILL be obsolete, and they know this, and are planning for this.

    In the meantime they'll be partnering behind the scenes with Apple to have the first fitness app on their iWatch. That's if they're smart.I'm not saying the FuelBand is bad, but it's future is hopeless. It's temporary. This is all just a guess, but one of the key indicators is that Nike haven't even opened up their API (past GET requests). If they were serious about partnering up with their platform they would've by now. By contrast, an API was one of the first things Pebble did, because Pebble knew it was severely limited without it.