Nike’s New FuelBand and the Age of Social Products

With the debut of its second-generation FuelBand, Nike extends its foothold in the fast-growing “wearables” market and moves further into social products.

Nike+ FuelBand SE | Source: Nike

NEW YORK, United States — On Tuesday, in TriBeCa’s newly opened Spring Studios, Nike held a very Apple-like symposium to introduce the new Nike+ FuelBand SE, the second iteration of its fitness-tracking wristband that the company hopes will expand its position in the rapidly growing market for wearable computing devices: personal accessories with embedded sensors, displays and other digital technology, such as the FuelBand, Google’s Internet-connected eyewear and Apple’s rumoured iWatch.

According to a recent study by Credit Suisse, the “wearables” market — currently concentrated in health and fitness — is set to explode, reaching $30 billion to $50 billion over the next three to five years, becoming the next major technology battleground, as sensors and battery life improve and an ecosystem of entrepreneurs start to build thousands of apps and services on top of wearable devices, just as they have done for smartphones.

In terms of design, the new Nike+ FuelBand looks similar to the first-generation product, though it now comes with a choice of accent colours. But it’s the new product’s less visible technical upgrades that differentiate the SE, said Nike’s vice president of digital sport, Stefan Olander.

Gone are the days where you can wave your hand around to cheat your way to hundreds of additional “fuel points,” Nike’s branded metric for measuring movement. The company has reengineered the device’s sensors so that these types of gestures are awarded less points. A redesigned circuit board now gives the strap more flexibility. And a new water resistant finish makes it even easier to wear the product all day.

What’s more, a new feature called “Fuel Rate” now measures the rate at which fuel points are being earned, while another new feature called “Sessions” lets users track exactly how many points they earn during specific sessions of activity, like a run or a soccer game.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the new FuelBand SE is it’s increased focus on community. Using enhanced social features, FuelBand users can now gather in groups — or “micro communities,” as Olander put it — and share their fitness data, cheer each other on and work together towards common group goals.

But ultimately, the FuelBand is more than just a community of people. It’s a community of products. The FuelBand SE is “not just a piece of hardware or an app,” emphasised Olander. Indeed, it’s a textbook example of what Mark Bonchek and Sangeet Paul Choudary, in a recent blog post for the Harvard Business Review, have termed “social products.”

“We are moving from a world in which physical products are separate to one in which they are connected….[but] the real change will happen when products aren’t just connected, but social,” write Bonchek and Choudary. “Nike is betting on a future with connected shoes, where each individual shoe learns from the data aggregated from a network of connected shoes… [In fact,] Nike is creating an entire ecosystem of connected products (Hyperdunk+ shoes), a social network of products (FuelBand), a social network of people (Nike+), and a collaborative platform (Digital Sport).”

“In an age of social products, competitive advantage comes not from product features, but from network effects. Companies succeed by having products that better leverage the intelligence of the network of other connected products,” the post continues.

But capitalising on the opportunity requires a mindset shift: “from standalone-product thinking to connected-platform thinking. The age of social products is dawning. Companies that create products that are smart, connected, and, most importantly, social, will not only survive, but thrive.”