Nike looks to abandon at least part of wearable effort

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NikeFuel, one of the most widely know sports wearables may be headed to the recycle bin as the company has slashed the development team internally just as a large number of rivals are looking to enter the wearable space.

There are few facts yet in the situation as Nike has not yet released an official announcement about its moves but last Friday C/Net broke the news story saying that Nike had laid off as many as 55 people from the 70 person division that develops the FuelBand. Its Digital Sports arm will still employ approximately 150 people after the cuts.

It looks like not only the FuelBand but also its sportswatch and any other wearables that were on the drawing board are now on the chopping block. Nike confirmed to C/Net that a change in direction and layoffs were in the works but said that it would continue to support and sell the Nike+FuelBand SE for the foreseeable future.

However the move does not mean that Nike is leaving the space, or that the money and effort that went into its recently opened lab in San Francisco are going to waste, instead the company is shifting its focus to software, which as the core mission for its just opened lab.

Of course this opens the door for a whole new range of speculation. Will Nike, which has appeared to favor Apple and its platform, continue down this road and possibly be the supplier of the software to the expected Apple smartwatch? Apple has a long history of doing both its own hardware and software and while it has been happy to accept Nike support on the app side, is that what Nike wants?

Then it could focus more on Google, which is the largest mobile OS provider and has a major push in the wearable space. While Google Glass gets most of the attention that is really just the tip of the iceberg. Google recently announced its Android Wear project designed to expand the wearable space and with it use of the company’s operating system.

This will be an interesting trend to follow and could show the impact that the growing strength of Google is having on a wide range of market segments going forward.

Nike+ Fuel Lab powers up in San Francisco with new partnerships

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As per its previous announcement Nike has gotten its development lab up and running in San Francisco. The lab designed to help enhance and expand the ecosystem of apps and hardware that can partner with its line of NikeFuel-based sports technology.

The announcement coincided with that of three partnerships with Nike. The three are MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper and Strava all of which will be integrating Nike technology into their own products, hoping to expose Nike’s technology to millions of potential additional users.

Strava develops running and cycling GPS-based apps that enable users to take any GPS device out on a run or ride and then view their route on a map after the fact using its app on a PC. RunKeeper is an app for both Apple iOS and Android devices that tracks a users pace, distance and other factors including weight loss. Despite its name it can be used for more than just running as it works well with cycling, or for less active users, walking. MyFitnessPal is a calorie counting app.

Using the ability of NikeFuel to monitor activity, and for that matter inactivity, is core to what Nike is providing to these developers. The Nike+ NikeFuel line has expanded to include arrange of products some broadly focused and others targeting more specific activities. In the lineup are Nike+ FuelBand SE which includes Nike+ Groups and Sessions; Nike+ Running which includes Nike+Coach; Nike+ Training Club that includes more than 100 workouts and then there is Nike+Move.

It will be interesting to see how widespread the adoption of this technology will be. I wonder if Nike can leverage this partner strategy to the level of ubiquity that Facebook has achieved in getting comment sections to accept a Facebook login as a standard mode?

AT&T Park gets more Wi-Fi, new DAS backend, and iBeacon… plus seat upgrade app

Generally recognized as perhaps the best-connected sports stadium anywhere, AT&T Park in San Francisco will greet fans for the 2014 baseball season with upgrades to make the technology experience even better than before, with upgraded Wi-Fi and DAS, as well as Apple’s new iBeacon technology.

In a press release sent out earlier this week the Giants said that they and partner AT&T had been busy this offseason adding upgrades to the Wi-Fi network that has hosted more than 1.85 million visitors since it first went online in 2004. According to the Giants the park now has 1,289 access points for its free Wi-Fi service, second in number only to the Dallas Cowboys’ home, cavernous AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

On the DAS side of things AT&T Park now has a completely new headend system that fully supports both AT&T and Verizon versions of 4G LTE signals. According to the release T-Mobile and Sprint services will join the DAS later this year.

Like many other MLB parks the Giants’ home will now feature Apple’s iBeacon technology, which is basically low-power Bluetooth connections that can communicate with nearby Apple iOS7 devices. Though phones may now run out of juice quicker at the park if you need to leave both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on, it should be interesting to see how fans respond to the iBeacon deployments, whether they find them helpful or annoying. MSR will keep following the iBeacon deployments through the year, and we encourage any and all fans who use the system to tell us how it worked.

This year the Giants will also be working in partnership with the Pogoseat app for instant at-the-game ticket upgrades. The feature will be available in the Giants version of MLB’s At the Ballpark app, where Giants fans will be able to search for better seats to pay for while at the park. Of course you can always try the time-honored method of just sneaking into empty seats in later innings of the game, but there is no app for that.

MLB delivers completely revamped At The Ballpark app

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With the start of the Major League Baseball season just days away the league has delivered a complete rebuilt At The Ballpark app that includes a great deal more local customization, new technology integration and support.

The app has been available for 4 years and the facelift will add many features that will give users a greater ability to customize the app to meet their personal needs and usage model. It is available now for 20 ballparks and runs on both Android and Apple’s iOS operating system with additional customization in the latest release for the iOS 7 operating system.

The first of the two key technologies that have been incorporated is mapping and directions provided by a MapQuest-powered engine. MapQuest has a deal with MLBAM that will call for the delivery of additional MLB-focused features that will be available soon for both operating systems that At The Ballpark supports. In addition MapQuest and MLBAM also are co-creating an original video series, expected to debut in May 2014.

The second technology has been much more talked about in recent months, and that is the inclusion of iBeacon, a low powered micro-location technology that was introduced with iOS 7. MLBAM has equipped 20 ballparks with dozens of iBeacons each, and starting with Opening Day fans can check in at the ballpark and then receive offers and information from locations within the park as they travel around or sit in their seats.

Currently there are only a select few applications for the technology at the ball yards but MLBAM is working to create more and expects to deliver them later this year, as well as expand the number of fields that have the technology.

For fans who have been using At The Ballpark in the past it will still have the familiar functions including the ability to use MyTickets Mobile for delivery and storage of all MLB tickets sold as well as seat upgrade functions in select clubs. Some clubs also allow you to order food and beverages with the app.

You can view team stats, schedule and watch video of games, a number of hooks into social media and rewards for check-ins as well as more mundane features such as ballpark guides, parking and directions are all among the functions of the app.

This is a great upgrade to the app and really enables fans to not just customize their experience but will provide even seasoned baseball game attendees the ability to make the experience easier and more enjoyable.

New app features, streaming opportunities for March Madness

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The NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball tournament, or as it is better known March Madness, has already started but there is still time for those that wait until the 13th hour to get their act together to both follow the tournament as a fan and your bracket as, well also a fan.

First and foremost is watching and following the games and Turner Sports, along with NCAA.com and CBS Sports have simplified that by making all of the games available online, with some requirements for the viewer. You can go to the March Madness main page for more information; the key is finding the “Select TV provider” button in the upper left corner as you must have a qualifying TV service contract to watch online. The effort by Turner et al may shake up how future major sporting events are broadcast and garnered solid reviews in Fast Company. There is also a twist for the Final Four television coverage, where there will be separate announcing teams on alternative Turner channels. The SI roundup has a good description of what’s going on, television-wise.

Pretty much any newspaper, blog, web site and sports channel has a contest, ranging from billionaire Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans’ offer to pay $1 billion to anybody that picks all 64 winners to local office and bar pools.

The next games start Thursday and many pools allow you to enter up until just before tipoff of that round. If you are looking around for something that is not in the mainstream but will connect you to everybody that you might want to chart with, or talk trash with.

An app launching in support of the iPad in time for the tournament is called FanKave, and it functions much like you might imagine. You enter a ‘Kave’ for each game and can talk, both online and using voice, with friends or rivals while receiving play-by-play results. A nice feature is that from a Kave a fan can post to a variety of social media sites such as Facebook without needed to open a separate app for that.

The app supports more than simply the basketball tournament, with the NFL, NBA and NCAA football available now and MLB and FIFA World Cup 2014 expected soon. It is currently available only on the iPad platform but its developers said that iPhone and Android versions are expected soon.

A more established mobile app called theScore is also trying to make hay while the tournament’s sun shines by adding a number of additional features that revolve around March Madness. Among the new features is an ‘upset tracker’ that uses push notification to let users know that an underdog is leading with 5:00 minutes in the game.

There are plenty of established apps as well and pretty much everybody I know has multiple ones to follow both the tournament but also teams that they are interested in. Checking out specific schools can get you apps that (sometimes) enable you to closely follow the team’s progress through the tournament.

Jawbone UP24 support comes to Android

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For the fitness band user and Android owner there are a few options not available to you as some products are only available for Apple’s iOS app platform. But in this emerging market but one of the stalwarts, Jawbone, has just made the transition to supporting Android in its most recent release.

A few months after Jawbone released an Apple version it has released the UP 3.0 app that brings Android support to the UP24 fitness tracking band, opening up a much bigger market.

The new app enables users to track a wide variety of physical activities up to and including sleep, food, and drink nutritional data. It is designed to enable a user to both set goals and milestones and to track progress towards achieving them. Users can log workouts, team with friends or rivals to establish competitions.

It has an array of alerts that a user can customize from ones that set nap time and lengths to ones that alert you to any time that you have been inactive too long and this can be set for different levels at different times of day. The app supports a wide number of languages including English, Spanish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.

The fitness band space is increasingly competitive as sports watches seemed to pioneer this space but a number of the lightweight and flexible bands have started to emerge as a viable and easier to wear alternative.

There are also a number of fitness bands such as the Nike + Fuelband, the Fitbit Flex that are strong players in this space and larger, more dedicated watch like devices that originally started out as single sport appliances have pioneered this field but it seems likely that the emergence of Android and probably other OS wearable devices from Google Glass to a possible Apple iOS-based watch will start to compete here as well going forward.