Is Apple Holding Nike Back?


Nike's finally updating its game-changing FuelBand fitness bracelet, but it still isn't going to play nice with Android.

The athletic footwear and apparel giant introduced the Nike+ FuelBand SE yesterday. When it hits the market on Nov. 6, buyers of the $149 wristband, which tracks daily movements, will get to enjoy a new array of colors and features. There will also be an updated app with several new ways to keep folks hugging their wrists with FuelBands active. The device can be synced with a USB cable to any PC, but folks wanting to sync the FuelBand to their smartphones via the cable-free simplicity of Bluetooth will need to have an Apple iOS device.

Once again, Nike is limiting the appeal of its FuelBand product by restricting its official sync app to iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch devices. This would seem to be a dangerous bet on Nike's part. The iPhone's global market share has fallen from 17% to 13% over the past year, according to tech tracker IDC. Apple's share of the market is stronger closer to home, but Nike's hoping for a broader international push with the FuelBand SE. Why put out a tech bracelet that's limited to a sliver of the smartphone audience? Isn't that the same thing that's holding Samsung's Galaxy Gear back?

Why would Nike do this? It doesn't seem like it's a rational business move. Nike would never limit its products to southpaws, or folks who roll a certain number on a die. Why would it fail to adapt its product to the mobile operating system of choice in Android? Even Nike's promo page for the new device seems to be more like an iPhone 5s ad, given the many times that Apple's device appears on the landing page.

Source: Nike.

So, why is Nike letting so much of the addressable market for these fitness bracelets get away at a time when wearable computing gadgetry is all the rage? The answer may very well lie in Nike's boardroom. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been a Nike director since 2005. His insight is likely valuable to Nike, but not if it's somehow keeping the swoosh star from boosting the popularity of its FuelBand product.

Then again, could it be Nike that's holding Apple back? We've been hearing iWatch rumors since before Pebble pioneered the smartwatch market. Where's the iWatch? A conspiracy theorist would suggest that Nike's FuelBand app exclusivity to the thin iOS platform is tied to Apple staying out of the growing smartwatch market, but that's the kind of chatter best served to those donning tinfoil hats as they talk up Area 51. However, it is a shock to find Nike ignoring the Android market, which has only exploded in popularity since the original FuelBand rolled out early last year. It may be hard to justify the lost market opportunity to Nike shareholders with Cook still on the board.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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