Nike, Apple and the future of wearables

The news was broken on Secret, the application for sharing anonymous information of all sorts, and the presumably well-informed source said that the team that designed Nike’s FuelBand was being let go.

This was confirmed on CNet a week later: Nike announced that 80 percent of the FuelBand team was being sacked, and that it was pulling out of the burgeoning wearables market. If you were thinking of buying a Nike FuelBand, you’d better get moving; that said, the company won’t be working on any updates.

So why would Nike pull out of market where, although it wasn’t a pioneer—the FuelBand was introduced in 2012, compared say, to Fitbit’s presence since 2008—it had managed to garner a reasonable market share. The company has denied that it is pulling out of the wearables sector, but some people have pointed out that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, is part of Nike’s board, in other words, the company has dropped the FuelBank ahead of the much-vaunted launch of Apple’s iWatch, which some industry analysts, on the basis of the company’s recent hirings and mergers, say means that the company is going to focus on the health monitoring, exercise and quantified self market.

Nike and Apple have worked together in the past: Nike+ iPod was launched in July 2006, and is a device for measuring how far and how fast one is running or walking. Some commentators had already pointed out that the presence of Cook on Nike’s board could eventually lead to a collision, given both companies interest in this burgeoning sector. Nike’s announcement could mean the start of further collaboration between the two that would see Nike input into the iWatch.

Meanwhile, the wearables market continues to provide information that will affect other areas, from reducing one’s health insurance contribution to calculating demand and capacity for electric energy on the basis of intelligent thermostats such as Nest.

As long as user privacy is protected, these uses could make a valuable contribution to an ecosystem based on information obtained from a wider and wider range of sources; equally, if the information is not used properly, it could create a whole series of problems.

From the moment that data about your physical exercise captured by a device you wear can determine things like how much your employer pays toward your health insurance, major precautions need to be adopted to avoid misuse. The key, obviously, is to bring into line the potential benefits for all: living a healthy life is in everybody’s interest, and can offer benefits to insurance companies and to national health systems, but the idea of converting it into an obligation or a responsibility can also incur costs, and that is without getting into issues of the state’s or private companies’ intrusion into our personal lives.

Are we headed toward a society that punishes those among us who persist in unhealthy habits by making them pay more for health insurance? In reality, many of these elements are actually already present in the calculations that private health insurers make when setting their rates: a man who comes from a family with a history of heart attacks will pay more than somebody who doesn’t; smokers pay more than non-smokers.Are we prepared to accept the growing use of data from wearables to provide up-to-date and reliable information about us to further refine these calculations? Are we looking at a future where we will be required to show that we exercise regularly in order to keep our health insurance down? Many of us would see that as a 1984 scenario. Protection against discrimination based on genetic information is, for the moment, guaranteed under law in countries like the United States, but are we moving toward a progressive de facto discrimination in terms of how much we pay for health insurance based on the decisions we make about how we live, and that can be controlled by devices? Is this really the future of wearables and quantified self?

(En español, aquí)