Nike most recent bid to enter into the crowded field of wearable fitness technologies is its Nike FuelBand, a rubber wristband that tracks user movement and links that data back to an iPhone application for real-time performance readouts. In a bid to further the usefulness and value of the personal technology, Nike has also opened the beta version of its NikeFuel API to developers interested in combining music with the wristband, marking the first time Nike has released an API of any kind. Developers will be able to use the API to hack together apps, platforms, and other technologies that can work together with Nike’s fitness offerings. Though the API is only currently available in a limited beta for developers who participated in the Backplane hackathon during SXSWi in Austin, Texas, the move likely signals wider API availability in the near future.
One example of what this API could eventually enable, is the Shuffle app, which creates radio stations based on location, environmental sounds, a user’s speed, the weather, and other forms of data to figure out which song to play next. The app monitors a person’s activities throughout the day to figure out when a person needs to hear what, with the display reflecting the mood of the current song playing – a sun for happy music or a cloud for sad music, etc.
By opening itself up to third party development, Nike has the opportunity to leverage the creativity of the crowd and expand the application’s capabilities beyond what its internal team has already envisioned. Though developers are focusing on music at the moment, Nike may soon turn to developers for ideas on visualizing fitness data or weaving social elements into its applications. As has been the case many times before, making an API available to a third party can spark imagination, innovation and ingenuity, oftentimes with unexpected results. For example, developers could leverage the massive troughs of data offered by Nike’s FuelBand to create ways for individuals to opt-in and share their fitness data with healthcare providers or insurance companies in order to receive added benefits or pay reduced rates, extending the value of the fitness monitoring device.
To be sure, the question of proper conduct regarding the opening up of user data to developers presents its own set of complications around privacy and security. At its most basic level, the conversation boils down to one of transparency and value for individuals. If I’m a Nike FuelBand user and I share my data, what do I get in return? With the widely documented stories of companies such as Apple and Facebook misusing their customer data, there is a more public conversation taking place about what this sharing and availability of personal information means for businesses and consumers. Without clearly spelled out explanations about how this data is being used and the incentives for sharing, there is still the potential for distrust, but exercises like Nike’s point to a future where both parties can benefit from a culture of openness.
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