Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

With FuelBand, Nike Gets Into the Ultra-Wearable Fitness Game

Another lightweight, polymer-encased fitness wristband has hit the market. But this one comes from Nike.

The Nike+ FuelBand measures time, calories, steps and “NikeFuel.” It uses an accelerometer to measure movement, has built-in USB and 20 LED flights that flash red or green to show your progress, and can connect wirelessly to the iPhone via Bluetooth.

The FuelBand comes with a free iPhone app, and is social network friendly, for those users who want to share their activity updates with Facebook, Foursquare and even Path. For now, the FuelBand app is iOS-only. Stefan Olander, Nike’s vice president of digital sport, says that the company will eventually explore other mobile operating systems for the app.

Nike, for competitive reasons, currently isn’t sharing details on how the band calculates users’ NikeFuel levels, whether they’re running, skateboarding, or doing any other kind of physical activity. The idea of NikeFuel — a measurement or score of a user’s activity — sounds a little bit like the Fitbit’s “flower power” currency. It’s a way for users to compare workouts without necessarily referring to data like calories burned, which may differ from user to user.

With FuelBand, Nike seems to be taking a slightly different measurement approach from those of other makers of health-and-fitness bands. The company says it maps oxygen uptake against a three-axis accelerometer during both activity and downtime to measure the metabolic equivalent of a task (a.k.a. M.E.T).

The Jawbone UP, for example, measures steps, heart rate, calories burned and sleep patterns. Basis is also focused on measuring heart rate and other metrics with its Basis B1 Band (no chest strap needed). And BodyMedia’s Fit armband uses galvanic skin response (GSR) sensors to measure body temperature and how much heat has dissipated from the body to determine the amount of energy that’s being used.

The Nike+ FuelBand will be available for preorder in the U.S. on Jan. 19, and will cost $149 — more than the UP, less than the B1 Band, and in the same range as BodyMedia’s bands.

Nike has a few other wearable workout tools already on the market, but its FuelBand is really meant to be worn all day, so Nike device users don’t have to switch from day wear to workout wear. With the FuelBand, Olander says, Nike is aiming to hit all areas and levels of the fitness market, not just serious athletes and runners.

Here’s a quick rundown of how the FuelBand compares to Nike’s other fitness-monitoring devices:

There’s the Nike+ SportBand, which currently retails for $59, has a slightly bulkier form factor, and works in conjunction with a sensor that goes under the sock liner of your left-foot Nike+ compatible shoe. This one is water-resistant, tracks distance, pace, time elapsed and calories burned, and stores 30 hours of running data. (It’s also available as a “Livestrong” SportBand.)

There’s also the $199 Nike+ GPS Sportwatch powered by TomTom, which works with or without a Nike+ sensor as well as a Polar WearLink Transmitter for measuring heart rate. Compared to a single rubbery wristband, that’s a lot of stuff to carry around; without those devices, the watch alone shows a mapped route and tracks time, distance, pace, heart rate and calories burned. It plugs directly into a USB port on your computer to upload run data and recharge the battery.

And the Nike Amp+ iPod Remote is no longer available through Nike’s store, but way back in the day — four years ago — it was a nifty device that synced the Nike watch to users’ iPods and provided voice updates on time, distance, calories and pace during workouts.

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