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posted: 4/26/2014 7:19 AM

Nike's pull away from wearable tech might be good for field

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The Washington Post

Plenty of technology companies are pouring into the wearables market, seeing the success of fitness trackers as an early indication that folks will be equally as excited by smart watches, glasses, jewelry, clothing and, well, smart everything.

But one of the first companies to crack the space may be pulling out. As first reported by CNET, when it comes to wearables, Nike may be saying, "Just don't."

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In a report Friday, the technology site said that the fitness firm has laid off a number of employees in the division responsible for its FuelBand, a wristband that the company first released in 2012 that allows users to track aspects of their fitness such as the number of steps they take. According to the CNET report, Nike has decided to focus its efforts on building software for fitness trackers rather than the hardware -- a move that could eventually spell the end of the FuelBand altogether.

Nike did not respond to a request for comment, but told Re/Code that it is still planning to improve the company's FuelBand app and will sell and support the current version of the product, the Nike+FuelBandSE, for the "foreseeable future."

But getting out of the wearable hardware game makes a lot of sense for Nike, which has all but perfected the process of manufacturing clothing but isn't exactly an expert in tech hardware. Building out its software gives Nike the opportunity to partner with an increasing number of companies that are said to be jumping into the hardware space.

The most promising of those expected companies is, without a doubt, Apple.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook is a member of Nike's board and a FuelBand user himself, having donned the gadget at the All Things D tech conference last year. At the same conference, Cook said that Apple has found the wrist to be an "interesting" place for wearables, setting off a wave of speculation that the company really is planning to build an "iWatch."

A Nike-Apple partnership that builds on the one the firms already have -- Nike+ iPod is already a default service built into iOS devices -- would make a lot of sense for both companies if those rumored plans come to fruition.

Rather than see this as a death knell for the wearables market, it may actually be a sign that the industry is growing up and moving beyond fitness.

Fitness is arguably the most obvious application for wearables, but tech has a tendency to move away from single-use devices and onto gadgets that can do everything. We're already seeing that happening with early attempts at wearables, Samsung's line of smartwatches and Google Glass. Sure, these gadgets are still being met with skepticism, but that's mostly because they're still a little clunky.

If Nike can get out of the hardware-design game and focus on making apps that make wearables worth wearing, it would be a smart move for it and for the tech industry.

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