Co.Design

Apple’s Tim Cook On Why The Nike+ FuelBand Works And Google Glass Doesn’t

At the All Things D conference, the tech giant’s commander-in-chief shared his thoughts on the hottest space in technology: wearables.

Beyond the razzle-dazzle keynotes, it’s rare that we get a peek inside the mind of Apple. But at the All Things D conference—a tech conference helmed by the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, famous for stunts like getting Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to share an interview—Tim Cook spent the better part of an hour talking about the company, its decisions, and its direction.

A topic of particular noteworthiness was the biggest looming disruption in technology: wearables. Cook talked about why the Nike+ FuelBand works and Google Glass doesn’t, and discussed a bit on why wearables are such a complicated space for the tech industry to enter.

Mossberg/Swisher: Is the future wearables?

Cook: I think so. I wear this. It’s a FuelBand. I think Nike did a great job with this. It’s for a specific area. It’s integrated well with iOS. There are lots of gadgets in this space now…[As for] the ones that are doing more than one thing…there’s nothing great out there that I’ve seen. There’s nothing that’s going to convince a kid that’s never worn glasses or a band to wear one. So I think there’s lot of things to solve in this space, but it’s an area where it’s ripe for exploration. It’s ripe for us all getting excited about. I think there will be tons of companies playing in this.

I see it as something, as another very key branch of the tree. You think about the post PC era, and we really started talking about this several years ago. I think the iPhone pushed us toward that fast and the tablet accelerated it. I think wearables could be another branch on this.

Mossberg/Swisher: Where will these wearables be worn on the body? Glasses? For health?

Cook: I’m interested in a great product. And I think in terms of glasses, I wear glasses because I have to. I can’t see without them. So I kind of have that problem. I don’t know a lot of people who wear them who don’t have to. People who do wear them generally want them to be light, to be unobtrusive. They probably want them to reflect their fashion, their style and so forth. And so I think from a mainstream point of view, this is difficult, this is difficult to see.

I think the wrist is interesting. I’m wearing this [FuelBand] on my wrist. It’s somewhat natural. But as I said before, I think for something to work here [gestures to wrist], you first have to convince people it’s so incredible that they want to wear it.

Because you two guys are wearing watches. If we had a room full of 10-20 year olds, and we said ‘everyone stand up who has a watch on,’ I’m not sure anyone would stand up. I don’t see it. Their watch is this [pulls out an iPhone]. I don’t think it has to be just that. I think there are other wearable ideas that could be interesting. The whole sensor field is going to explode. It’s already exploding. It’s a little all over the place right now, but with the arc of time, it will become clearer I think.

* * * *

His half-tacit point, as to why the Nike+ FuelBand works and Google Glass doesn’t, seems to revolve around the idea that people will wear a watch who don’t technically need it, but they won’t as readily wear glasses for reasons beyond necessity (like fashion, for instance).

Of course, while many of us agree with Cook about Glass’s fashion faux pas, I’d bet all of us have a friend who, during the chunky hipster glasses era, has donned a pair of frames with clear (or no) lenses. And don’t even get me started on the necessity/style ration of sunglasses. Quite simply, people wear glasses for utility and fashion at a varying ratio.

But whether or not you agree with Cook’s entire argument, his conclusion seems sound: that to create a successful wearable, you must pack in a compelling argument for the consumer to display this on their body. I just hope that Apple, of all tech companies working in this space, realizes that this compelling argument may actually be MORE about fashion than utility. It’s a big reason that my Nike+ FuelBand has grown dusty on my desk. It works, and I like how it looks. But fashion is fickle. And even if I like how an iWatch looks on day 1, I may tire of it on my wrist by day 90.

See the full interview here.

[Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design]

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16 Comments

  • Bennett Smith

    Hi. I have an iPhone 5S, I have a Pebble Smartwatch, and I’m a Google Glass Explorer.

    I can tell you without a doubt that the Smartwatch has staying power. Once people start with one they will never want to not have one again. But they’re absolutely a niche product, because they seem unnecessary. Google Glass, which is overcomplicated and difficult to use, has to compete against Ray-Bans. Unlike smartphones, Smartwatches have to compete for your wrist with Rolex, and Omega, and whatever else actually marks good taste and status.

    The thing about wearables is that when competing for parts of your body, that whole Apple v. Google passive-aggressive subroutine shtick where they punish you for not using the other brand's products is not gonna fly. The API for wearable products needs to be already integrated into the consumer's personal digital ecosystem, or they won't even be worth the effort.

  • Designer_Rants

    Derp: Tech CEO compares apples to oranges in order to talk shit about Competitor's Product. Praises product of Non-Competitor Sportswear Corporation. Rube Reporter believes this is news, or cynically believes Readers are Rubes.

  • Thomas Georgetown

    Okay, Eric. Isn't there some meeting you could infiltrate and get your next idea?

  • Philipe C. Amaro

    Fuel band does NOT provide real/accurate figures. It's just mimic how many calories you would spent during the day based on ordinary data (high, weight and age) and if you are into sports you know that this is extremely NOT accurate. So basically the discussion ere is about a device that does not provide real data. There's no bases for this debate as the fuel band itself is not solid.

    Google glass does and will work. Further more, it will revolutionize the tech industry and what can be achieved. Quite sure that google glass will be converted into contact lens sooner than we think... the future is now! 

  • Bennett Smith

    I've got Glass and I'll tell you from firsthand experience that the version that exists now needs a major overhaul. Not talking bad about Google here, since I have complete faith that the product will get the attention it needs before the retail version launches, but no. It does not currently work.

  • Thomas Georgetown

    I wear glasses and hate the hassle of contacts. No way would I wear something just so Google could make more money off me.

  • marcforte

    PHILIPE C. AMARO, You really think that more than a tiny minority of people would be willing to put an unnecessary electronic device in their eye voluntarily?  I think you're dreaming, and this illustrates perfectly the disconnect between the technophile advocates of glass and most other people.

  • Oscar J. Acosta

    Well I am a 40 year old industrial designer, full time job, active life, husband and father, do yoga 4 to 5 times a week, fit, and are not particularly interested on a wristband to tell me how much I move... on the other hand, I am a son, a husband, a father, a brother and uncle and a friend among other things of course, and I might be more interested, when getting into my spare-time activities and finding myself wishing I had a camera to capture this or that moment more enticed towards a wearable tool that might help me record that "snap" moment than one that tells me if I am moving or not... I live more than measure if I move or have not moved enough, that is just me, probably for the amateur and professional athlete is a fantastic tool, but for me being there and sharing more without having my hands busy looking through a visor or my head dunk in a screen on very interesting moments is priceless, but as I said, that is just me.

  • AlienXS

    Did you really expect someone from Apple talking in a positive way about any Google service/product?

    :D

  • Annamaria Pino

    I dont think is a matter of which is the part of the body that is most interesting or not, it is more about how much value does the new wearable bring to the customer... if the value is high... a brand can easily change people's behavior on they way we do and share things...

  • kafantaris

    Tim Cook says: "I wear glasses because I have to. I don't know a lot of people who wear them because they don't have to. The wrist is more interesting." 
    Actually Tim, Google Glasses are more interesting and offer the richer experience. The wrist watch does not.  In fact it's boring -- and leaves one hand useless. 
    Why would we want to do that?
    No, Tim, that dog won't hunt.  
    So you'd better get started with Apple Glasses or you'll be on the outside looking in.

  • Thomas Georgetown

    LOL That dog has already started hunting and it isn't wearing ads from Google.

  • Pete Laberge

    Either way, expensive, un-necessary, intrusive, privacy robbing, electronic junk.   It lasts a year and then you throw it out for a new one.  Junk it was, junk it is, junk it will be.  Reminds me of a certain liturgy. The Earth is a trash can.   Do let us generate even more garbage!  

    No wonder everybody hates American and Americans!   The great despoiler nation of the planet earth!   But go ahead, pollute your country MORE!  Eventually it will destroy you.  You too are disposable!  Just leave the rest of our world alone.  Please?  

    The glasses?  Some idiot will put them on, do something wrong, and get beaten to death.  GOOD!  And then, the lawsuits!  Even better!  And they'll be very useful for terrorists, hum.....?   And when the next MaCarthy era strikes....  Oh, yes, Brave New world, indeed.  Sometimes, just because you can do something, does not mean you should do it.  But there are so many good criminal uses for this thing!  

    The wrist thing?  I have no idea what is is.  And do not even care enough to find out.  More junk.  I have done without for 50 years.  Billions have.  Many more Billions will.  From the name I guess it may be for dieting, or maybe planned exercise.  Umm, if your're fat?  You ate too much.  If you need help to decide to get out of your chair?  WOW!  You have problems.   Else, well, if I guessed wrong, it may have bad name.  The name of a product should tell what it does.  And interest the consumer.  Common sense.  So if it does something else....  

    As for watches, well, I still wear one.  Millions do.  Wal-mart sells hundreds and hundreds of thousands.  They are more convenient.  You don't have to turn them on to see the time.  They do a job, telling time and date, and they do it well.  Some do even more.  And cheaply, efficiently.  Bright sun or dark night, in a cave or underwater, they keep on ticking,  And, to quote the Apple guy, they are on your wrist.  Hard to lose.  Hard to get stolen.   

    Look, there are 7 billion people on earth.  If you make some cutesy thing, at least in the Wastrel Western World, some nut with money to waste will buy one.  Maybe even two.  And it might even get popular if a Hollywood celebutard wears it on TV.   This does not mean it is truly useful or needed.   It does not mean it is a good product.  It means it sold. At least to one guy.  Plenty of good useful products have either failed or been taken off the shelves.   That could be for a number of reasons.  In some cases, companies have been forced to bring something back, even.  There are many recent examples.  

    And of course, Apple and Google are deadly enemies.  They will talk bad about each other.  But not necessarily for the right reasons.   One must be wary when either side talks.  They talk to sharpen their own ax. 
    Will the products sell?  There is enough marketing money behind them to sell them to monkeys.  That is NOT my point.   And even then, marketing money does not mean they will succeed.  My point was basic needs and utility. And that is another issue.  

  • Pete Laberge

    Since I could not respond to Arees, on his comment, I will respond here.  

    First, Arees, I do not rant.  I stated facts, albeit in a terse manner.  Why? How? Because I have had experience with them. True, I could have spent more time explaining my points.  But my time is limited.  So I was succinct.  I figured that the caliber of people here could read and understand. Do not tell me I do not have compassion or understanding, because, well, for one thing, you know nothing about me.  You have no idea how much compassion I may have.  But there are other things BESIDES compassion.  I am not ignorant, for I probably know far more about the "medical conditions" than you do.  I could say much more about this topic, but have no time. Think of this one, quickly:   I just buried a guy who refused to care for his health, until it was too late.  I lost a friend of 40 years.   I loved him like a brother, but I know what killed him.  I have another friend of 20 years in a similar boat.  I have know their diets, habits, and personas well for too many years.  Am I perfect?  Hella no.  Some would say I am killing myself slowly.  Well, they do not have my daemons to deal with. 

    I had no idea my opinions were small minded, many people find me quite perceptive.  They being Mensas, I must defer to their opinion. As well, there are a number of average people who like my ideas.  If you do not, if you cannot or will not understand, I may have to live with that.  As will you.  But you could try. It might do something for you. 

    The subjects are NOT Intricate.  They are quite simple.   If you need a wrist band to tell you if you are burning calories, laddie, you have a problem.  And should work on solving it. 

    As one other comment said: The numbers are not accurate, especially in sports. In any case, numbers are nice, yes, but results matter.  The Apple guy says people do not wear wrist watches, but he is essentially wearing one.  I am sure the thing could be made to tell time, or more....  And not just how many calories it crudely calculates you may have burnt, or how much exercise, it calculates you may have had. 

    As for the glasses, others have pointed out problems with them.  A number of businesses are considering banning them.  Some, for good reason, already have.  Several state governments, and I think, the US Senate have queries about them.  Europe, also is unhappy.  I know a fair bit about my country's privacy legislation.  And I see problems there, too.  There are too many opportunities for violation.  Sometimes, just because you can (barely) do something, does not mean you should.  I doubt it will work out as a contact lens, except in a CIA Plot or Bond movie.  And as glasses, there are a number of handicaps to the gizmo.  Having worn glasses sine I was 8, I know a bit about them. 

    In any case, Apple and Google are dire competitors.  Others pointed that out.   Do not expect them to compliment each other!  

    Besides, in either case, someone else may well look at all the shortfalls, and come up with something better, less dangerous, and more useful, that more people would approve of and use.  I can well see that happening. 

  • ARees

    "Umm, if your're fat?  You ate too much.  If you need help to decide to get out of your chair?  WOW!  You have problems." ....Pete, if you think people ought to be interested in reading your comments, maybe avoid the rants that show us all that you must not have any compassion or understanding of what some people have to suffer with due to various medical reasons that I needn't waste my time explaining to someone so obviously ignorant as you. Do everyone in the world a favor, stick to the facts and spare us your small minded opinions on the intricacies of subjects that don't further your argument, but instead leave us wondering why we should read something written by someone like you.

  • Whea7

    Apple/Google bipartisanism aside, I have to agree with him on a number of points.  Glass was a bold move, since glasses aren't for people who don't wear glasses.  Nike Fuelband was much more logical, since lots of people wear wristbands that don't need to wear wristbands.

    The challenge will be designing wearable tech for people like me.  I wear neither glasses nor any wristwear.  I won't be convinced to do either unless I am totally sold on the comfort, fashion, and 'can't-live-without-it' benefits of the product.

    Good luck.