Is Nike and Apple’s relationship on the rocks?

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Where to next for Nike+ runners? Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac
Where to next for Nike+ runners? Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac
Photo: Graham Bower

Apple’s new Activity and Fitness apps for Apple Watch might signal the end of the company’s long partnership with Nike.

So what does this mean for the millions of us who were introduced to Nike+ by Apple in 2006 and have been logging our runs this way ever since? Are we about to get caught in a Kramer vs. Kramer-style tug of love?

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Nike and Apple first hit it off with the launch of the Nike+iPod Sport Kit in 2006. Apple made the iPod and sensor that tracked your runs, while Nike provided the running shoes and the website to log them on.

Nike+iPod was one of Apple’s classic “whole widget” solutions. It integrated hardware and software seamlessly. Each time you synced your iPod with iTunes, your run data was uploaded and the Nike+ website opened automatically.

When the honeymoon ended

The honeymoon period came to an abrupt end in 2008 when Nike launched its SportBand, which eliminated the need for an iPod or iPhone to track your runs. Oddly, they also introduced a new app called “Nike+ GPS,” which competed with the iPhone’s built-in Nike+ app.

But throughout this period, both sides remained loyal. Nike kept its apps exclusive to iOS, while Apple continued to encourage its customers to log their runs with Nike+.

An open relationship

Things got more complicated in 2012 with the launch of Nike’s first Android app.

Where Nike+iPod had slickly combined a device, an app and a website, users now had to choose these three components separately.

GPS watches from the likes of Garmin and TomTom work with Nike+ and with competitor websites such as Runkeeper and Strava. These websites in turn offer their own apps for smartphones and smartwatches.

Which means more freedom or more hassle, depending on your point of view.

Just good friends

Nike+ used to enjoy special status an integral part of Apple’s fitness offerings. But now it is featured alongside all the other third-party apps on the Apple Watch website.

So where does this leave the special relationship?

I doubt there has been any falling out. After all, Apple CEO Tim Cook continues to sit on Nike’s board. But clearly things have cooled somewhat.

This is probably just a result of developments in technology leading the two companies in different directions.

Apple’s sensor used to fit into a proprietary slot in Nike’s running shoes. GPS has made this redundant. And without the shoe sensor, there is no longer anything that ties the Nike+ service with their shoes to drive sales.

This may have diminished Nike’s interest in digital. (Strangely, it hasn’t deterred Under Armour, which has been investing heavily in this area with the acquisition of MapMyRun, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal.)

At the same time, wearables have evolved from fitness-only devices to multifunctional software platforms, leading Apple to muscle in on Nike’s territory with the upcoming launch of Apple Watch.

It is possible we’ll see more collaboration between Apple and Nike in the future, but right now, there just doesn’t seem to be the fit that their once was.

Tug of love

Having decided to replace my Nike+ SportWatch with an Apple Watch, I’m now torn between my love for Nike and my love for Apple.

I could continue to use Nike+, which has added Apple Watch support, enabling you to use your watch as a remote control so you don’t need to take your iPhone out of your pocket during a run.

But Apple Watch comes with two built-in fitness apps that offer similar functionality:

The Activity app closely resembles NikeFuel, with “rings” that you complete as you reach your movement goals for the day. It’s designed for people who want to live a healthier life by being more active. But with goals like “standing up more,” it is clearly not intended for obsessive runners.

The Fitness app looks more promising, offering GPS tracking for runs. But with no website for viewing your maps, stats and charts, the only way to access your history is via the fairly basic built-in Activity and Health apps on the iPhone.

Apple continually evolves its products, and this is just a 1.0 release. Hopefully they will add a Fitness companion app for iPhone, iPad and maybe even the Mac. Following your runs in Flyover could be a killer feature.

Until then at least, I’ll be sticking with Nike+. I’ve now logged almost 20,000 kilometers, and I have to admit, I’m kind of proud of my Volt Level status. I’m not keen on the idea of starting from scratch on a new platform.