Technologizer

The Secrets on ‘Secret’ Are Getting Juicier

Two pieces of anonymous scuttlebutt have turned out to be legit scoops

I’ve been using Secret–the iPhone app that lets you share brief items with friends without knowing who’s who–off and on since it debuted in April. Like all social networks, the content you see is determined by the people you know. In my case, the stream is an odd melange of musings about life in Silicon Valley, touching expressions of gratitude for family and friends, bad-taste jokes and private-life details I’d usually rather not know about. And it’s often not clear which secrets are sincere and which one are hoaxes.

In the last week or so, Secret has become something people thought it might be from the moment it launched: a source of juicy news about the tech industry.

First, a user posted that Nike was going to slash the staff responsible for its FuelBand wearable gizmo:

Secret

That turned out to be true. And then someone–presumably a different someone–posted that Vic Gundotra, the Google executive in charge of Google+, was job hunting:

Secret

That secret also panned out.

It would be very, very dangerous to assume that any future scuttlebutt of this sort is the real deal: Anyone can post anything on Secret, and it’s all anonymous. So there’s little danger in gaming the system with malicious fibs and/or silly stuff that may or may not be legit.

Still, if I worked in a prominent company in the industry and was up to something I didn’t want anyone to know just yet, Secret would freak me out. It seems like a pretty safe bet that bigger secrets than these will leak via the app at some point–and there’s nothing that anyone can do to prevent it.

Technologizer

LittleBits’ Space-Themed Electronics Kit Is Plug-and-Play and NASA-Approved

LittleBits
LittleBits

Snap-together electronics modules let you learn about space exploration by building stuff

What if experimenting with electronics was more like playing with Lego? That’s the idea behind LittleBits, a system of modules such as motors, displays, sensors and buzzers. They’re color-coded, snap together magnetically and come with instructions for projects, letting young and not-so-young amateur engineers build stuff without ever getting near a soldering gun.

Today, LittleBits is introducing a new package called the Space Kit. And it’s doing it in collaboration with the ultimate expert on its theme of space exploration: NASA. The space agency collaborated with the company on the projects supplied with the kit, which provides build-it-yourself desktop versions of some of the devices and technologies used by real astronauts.

The $189 collection includes modules such as a DC motor, an LED display, a microphone, a speaker and a doohickey that can accept input from a standard remote control. You combine these parts with household items of your own–bowls, aluminum foil, string, craft sticks–to create projects such as a robotic grappler, satellite dish, star chart and energy meter.

As with Lego, it’s all very well to piece together LittleBits projects using the supplied plans, but the same parts can be mixed and matched for a more inspiring purpose: inventing your own items from scratch. You can share your creations on LittleBits’ site, where you’ll find an array of gizmos designed by teachers, students and other enthusiasts, from a space helmet to the baby stroller of the future.

See LittleBits’ video about the Space Kit below.

Technologizer

Opera Coast — the Browser That Makes Sites Feel like Apps — Lands on the iPhone

Opera Coast
Opera

No disrespect meant to Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, but in the grand scheme of things, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them. They aim to do much the same thing in much the same way with much the same features.

And then there’s Opera Coast. This fresh take on web browsing from the venerable Norwegian web browser company, which debuted on the iPad last September, doesn’t have a conventional address bar, forward and backward buttons or other features that have defined browsers for more than 20 years now. Instead, it treats sites like apps, showing them as icons you can arrange on a desktop, running them in full-screen mode and automatically returning to where you left off each time you visit. It feels a little like a tiny operating system for sites.

Now Coast also runs on the iPhone. It’s the original iPad version intelligently squooshed down for the smaller screen, with a few tweaks. The search feature now suggests “Stuff We Like” — an eclectic list of sites, based on what other Coast users are looking at in your geographic area — and the app automatically downloads a variety of photographic wallpapers for its desktop.

As before, Coast is polished, fun and fluid — and on the iPhone, you can pretty much navigate the whole experience with your thumb. It’s fascinating to see what a web browser looks like when all the cruft that browsers have built up over the years gets stripped away in one fell swoop. Even if you have no desire to dump Safari for most of your iPhone browsing, this inventive alternative is worth a peek.

Technologizer

When We Talk About Technology, It’s Time to Stop Using the Word ‘Mobile’

Portable Computer Terminal
In 1968's version of mobile computing, a man uses a Honeywell portable terminal in a telephone booth Underwood Archive / Getty Images

It was a very useful term for a very long time, but it's increasingly obsolete

Back when I was a wee lad and first became obsessed with computers, we called them by a name you don’t hear anymore: “microcomputers.”

That was to distinguish them from the big, important machines of the day–minicomputers and mainframes–and once it became clear that the vast majority of computers would be microcomputers, nobody felt obliged to be so specific.

Years later, when some PCs acquired audio-visual features such as sound cards and the ability to play back video, they were known as “multimedia PCs,” or MPCs for short. And then virtually all PCs got those features, and we stopped drawing that distinction.

It’s now time to do something similar: When we talk about technology, we ought to stop throwing around the word “mobile.”

At the moment, it’s one of the industry’s favorite words. Companies declare that they’re pursuing a mobile-first strategy; people talk about mobile operating systems; we make reference to having left the age of PCs behind and entered the mobile era.

Here’s why the term–which I cheerfully admit I use all the time–seems increasingly out of date:

Mobile is the default, and has been for a very long time. Depending on whose numbers you believe and how you do the math, sales of laptop computers overtook desktop PCs as long ago as 2003. Smartphones vastly outsell PCs, and tablets may surpass them as well any moment now. As for other devices–well, except for desktop computers, printers and scanners, how many pieces of hardware aren’t mobile these days?

Lumping phones and tablets into one category makes no sense. I acknowledge that there’s a great deal of technological overlap between them. But phones are designed for fast-paced, on-the-go usage scenarios, while a tablet is often something you relax with when you’ve got plenty of time on your hands, like a good book. We think of them as one category in part because neither is a PC, a mindset we should have moved past by now. It’s like declaring burger joints and steakhouses to be one category of restaurant based on their shared usage of beef.

There are no longer clear boundaries. Maybe there was a time when you could declare iOS and Android to be mobile operating systems, and Windows to be something else. But Windows now runs on tablets and phones that compete directly with iOS and Android devices, as well as on various sorts of hybrid devices that are part PC, part tablet. Also: I’m writing this piece on a Chromebook, and I have no idea whether I’m expected to consider Chrome OS to be a mobile operating system, a desktop one or some sort of unique category.

It’s not just about portability. The fact that it happens to be easy to carry around computing devices is an awfully superficial way to define an entire era. I hate the term “cloud,” but at least it acknowledges the fact that we’re all using web-based services and storing a meaningful percentage of our data online rather than on our hard disks. That’s as important a factor as the weight and dimensions of any given piece of hardware.

So if we stop using the word “mobile,” what should we replace it with?

Here’s my proposal: nothing. Personal technology is almost always mobile these days. In those rare instances when it isn’t, we can say so. O.K.?

Now that we’ve cleared this up, we can move on to other pressing issues. Such as rethinking the term “desktop,” which can mean a computer that isn’t portable (“desktop PC”). Or any piece of PC software, even if you’re running it on a laptop (“desktop browser”). Or, if you’re talking about Windows 8, only a certain type of PC software…

Bonus tidbit: Here, thanks to the indispensable Google Ngram Viewer, is a chart showing the rise and fall of the term “microcomputer,” which peaked in the mid-1980s.

microcomputer

Technologizer

Apple Will Let Mac Users Try Out OS X Betas (Finally!)

OS X Mavericks
Apple

Good news for early adopters. Will iOS be next?

If you’ve got a Mac and like trying out new software, Apple has a proposition for you. Join its new OS X Beta Seed program, and you’ll be able to download free test versions of future editions of OS X from the Mac App Store, before they’re released to the general public.

As with all beta programs, what’s in it for the software developer in question is real-world testing. Apple will be able to get feedback from program participants while it’s still possible to fix any glitches which turn up.

With any other product and any other company, this wouldn’t be news: It’s the way things work, generally speaking. For instance, Microsoft released a free consumer preview of Windows 8 in February 2012, months before the final operating system shipped in October.

Apple, however, has usually held its betas close to the vest. It’s distributed them to people who pay $99 a year to register as an OS X or iOS developer, but doing so has required those folks to sign an agreement saying they won’t discuss the pre-release software in public.

Actually, that mandate is still in place: As the Verge’s Chris Welch points out, signing up for the Beta Seed requires you to agree that you won’t blog, tweet, share screen shots or otherwise spill the beans.

The Beta Seed site never says that signing up for the program entitles you to get every new version of OS X early. In fact, the only version of OS X it mentions by name is Mavericks, the current major release. So I don’t think it’s a given that Beta Seed testers will get immediate access to the next version after Mavericks when it comes along, possibly at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June. But it would be nice if they did: It will have major new features, and any further Mavericks updates probably will not.

It’s traditional in stories such as this one to include a stern disclaimer that installing beta software can cause major problems and therefore isn’t for the faint of heart. I guess that’s true. Full disclosure, though: For years, I’ve installed most betas the moment I can get my hands on them. So far, I’ve lived to tell the tale. It may be risky, but it can also be a rewarding experience.

How about iOS? Apple isn’t making any mention at all of its mobile operating system, and it would be a much bigger decision for it to let consumers install such betas. Early versions of smartphone operating systems are far more likely to have crippling problems than desktop ones, and it’s tougher to reverse the process if you regret installing them.

I can’t imagine that Apple wants to provide tech support for people who install an iOS beta and then discover that their phone no longer functions as a phone. Maybe the company will cautiously provide seeds of very late, almost-done betas–also known by names such as “release candidates,” and typically just about as polished as final software. Here’s hoping.

Technologizer

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum on the Company’s Latest Milestone: 500 Million Active Users

Jan Koum
WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum shows off his personal phone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on February 24, 2014 Angel Navarette / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Not yet part of Facebook, which is still in the process of buying it, or a household name in the U.S., the messaging app is continuing to grow, and grow and grow, adding around 25 million new active users every month

When Facebook announced its stunning agreement to acquire messaging app WhatApp last February for $19 billion in stock, cash and restricted stock units, Mark Zuckerberg said that the startup was on track to reach a billion users. That pretty much explained his interest: It’s a figure that doesn’t come up often when discussing networked services other than…well, Facebook.

As of today, it’s official: WhatsApp is halfway there.

In a blog post today, it’s announcing that the app has 500 million users–not just people who registered, but ones who are active participants. I recently sat down with CEO and cofounder Jan Koum at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. to talk about the news.

Judging from its periodic statements over the past year, WhatsApp has been adding around 25 million new active users every month, a pace that isn’t slowing. The 500 million people now on board send tens of billions of text messages a day, along with 700 million photos and 100 million videos.

“On one hand, we were kind of expecting it,” Koum says of reaching the half-billion mark. “We got to 200 million users, 300 million users, 400 million users. It was going to happen sooner or later. But we think it’s an exciting number to share with the world and a good milestone to acknowledge what’s all been organic growth.”

In the U.S., WhatsApp is still probably best known as that company Facebook is in the process of buying. (The FTC signed off on the sale earlier this month–while emphasizing that WhatsApp must continue to abide by privacy promises it made to users–but other regulatory approvals are still pending internationally.) In much of the world, though, it’s already the app all your friends and relatives are using instead of carrier-provided text messaging.

Koum says that the app’s torrid growth tracks with the boom of smartphones–especially Android models. As people in a country join the smartphone era, some of them get WhatsApp. And then their friends and family members do, too, and the service explodes.

WhatsApp’s Android version WhatsApp

Right now, “the four big countries are Brazil, Mexico, India and Russia,” he says. “People who never used computers, never used laptops, never used the Internet are signing up.”

Rather than going after any particular country, Koum says, WhatsApp has always obsessed about the overall usage number. “We’re pretty confident that eventually we will a reach tipping point in the U.S. as well. Russia only tipped in the last six months. A switch flipped, and we took off.”

Though WhatsApp’s customer base may skew towards young people who like to share lots of quick messages and lots of photos, Koum says that it’s a mistake to assume that it’s just kids who are keeping the app growing. “We hear lots of stories where grandparents go to a store and buy a smartphone so they can keep in touch with kids and grandkids,” he says. That dynamic is helped by the app’s ridiculously easy setup–you don’t even have to create a user name or password–and features such as the ability to adjust the font size for easy readability.

The growth in smartphones isn’t enough to keep WhatsApp growing, however. There may be roughly two billion smartphones in the world, Koum notes, but between 500 million and one billion of them may be used without a data plan. In most cases, that’s because of cost, but the availability of Internet access isn’t a given everywhere.

“We take [connectivity] for granted in Silicon Valley, where you turn on your phone and see twenty different Wi-Fi networks,” he says. He told me how moved he’d been by a National Geographic photo showing people in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa standing on a beach with their phones in outstretched arms, trying to catch a stray wireless signal from neighboring Somalia, and says that he’s passionate about efforts such as Internet.org, a partnership between Facebook and mobile technology companies to bring Internet access to everybody, everywhere.

“We have no plans to change anything about how we execute.”Even in developed countries, “not everybody is on a data plan, which is unfortunate,” he says. So for the past two and a half years, WhatsApp has been busy partnering with wireless carriers around the world to offer affordable access to its service.

“We’ve done some really cool deals, and they’re not all cookie-cutter,” Koum explains. In India, you can sign up to get unlimited WhatsApp for 30 cents a month. In Hong Kong, you can buy a WhatsApp roaming pass. In Germany, there are WhatsApp-branded SIM cards, with unlimited WhatsApp service and starter credits for voice and data.

Rather than carriers looking at WhatsApp solely as a scary, disruptive force killing their ability to make money off text messaging, such offerings turn the service into a “win-win-win,” Koum says. “Users get unlimited WhatsApp. We get happy users who don’t have to worry about data. Carriers get people willing to sign up for data plans.”

The Future–and Oh Yeah, Facebook

For all of its growth, WhatsApp remains a famously lean operation: It got those 500 million active users with a team that only recently reached 60 staffers, for a ratio of over eight million users per employee. Koum says that the company doesn’t need to grow huge to serve even more folks. But “we do need more people–we’re actively hiring,” he says.

In particular, it’s beefing up its ability to provide customer support in more languages, including Portuguese, German, Ukranian, Polish and Romanian. “If anyone reading this article speaks multiple languages, they should apply,” he jokes.

When news of the Facebook acquisition broke, it inspired many people to worry about what it meant for the future of WhatsApp, whose business model has had a decidedly un-Facebookian slant in the past. The company makes money from customers–who pay 99 cents a year for service after the first year–and has been staunchly anti-advertising.

Both companies said at the time that WhatsApp would continue to be run independently and according to its existing principles, a point Koum stressed when I asked him about it.

“What makes our product work is the way we’re tightly focused on messaging and being an SMS replacement,” he says. The company plans to stick with that approach as it looks to “continuing to get to a billion users, and then two billion users. I think Facebook understands that, and Mark [Zuckerberg] understands that quite well. We have no plans to change anything about how we execute.”

As for competition from other messaging apps–and boy, is there a lot of it–Koum told me that some of WhatsApp’s rivals, such as Japan’s Line and China’s WeChat, are getting distracted from their core missions. People use WhatsApp, he says, to “keep in touch with each other, not movie stars or sports stars or random people you meet on the Internet. That’s why we’re succeeding internationally.”

“We want to do one thing and do it really well. For us, that’s communications between people who are friends and relatives.”

Technologizer

Lytro’s New Illum Camera: Light-Field Photography Gets Way, Way More Serious

Lytro Illum
Lytro

How serious? $1,599 serious

The first time I wrote about Lytro was back in October of 2011, when it announced its first product. I said it was “like no other camera you’ve seen before.” It wasn’t, and it isn’t.

The company’s $399 gizmo looks more like a pocket-sized kaleidoscope than a camera, and though it lacks many features standard on all other cameras, it uses light-field technology to create “living pictures” you can refocus after you shot them.

Since the camera’s debut, Lytro has added several new features–such as filters and an iPhone app–but the camera itself has remained the same. And even though it’s still the only light-field camera, it faces increasing competition from smartphone apps such as such as Google’s Android camera app. They use software alone to perform rough approximations of Lytro’s refocusing trick–usually very rough ones, but with the camera that’s already in your pocket.

Today, Lytro is announcing its second camera, the Lytro Illum. Rather than being what you might expect–an improved model at the same price point, or maybe even a lower one–it’s a radically different beast. Instead of going after garden-variety consumers, the Illum targets what the company calls “creative pioneers,” which it defines as professionals and passionate amateurs who are serious about staying on the cutting edge of storytelling technology.

So serious in fact, that they’re willing to pay $1,599 for this camera. That’s four times the cost of the original model (which remains on the market), and around the same price you might pay for a high-end consumer DSLR. The company will knock $100 off that price if you pre-order; it plans to start shipping the new model in July.

The basic light-field technology remains the same: Like the original Lytro, the Illum captures the direction of light in a scene as well as its color and intensity, giving it a fully three-dimensional understanding of the photos you take that other still cameras don’t have. That’s why you’re able to refocus photos after they’re taken and nudge them back and forth to see them from slightly different perspectives. But just about anything that the company could change about this new model, it did change.

 Illum
The Lytro Illum Lytro

That starts with the form factor. The first Lytro looked a bit like a squared-off, pocket-sized kaleidoscope, but this one looks like…a camera. A sizable, professional, stylish one–it leans forward in an aggressive stance–with a large lens and an articulated 4″ touchscreen display on the back and a shutter button where you’d expect it to be. It also has a slot for SD memory cards and a removable battery, two features absent in the original model. And it sports GPS and Wi-Fi, two features which aren’t yet standard fare on professional cameras.

The company also gave this camera a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the same one used in Samsung’s new Galaxy S5 smartphone. It says the new chip is 2,000 percent more powerful than the mundane one in its original camera, allowing the new one to do much more sophisticated image processing.

The original Lytro camera Lytro

Shooting with the first Lytro is a bit of a trial-and-error job: The matchbook-sized screen is dinky, grainy and hard to see outside, and it’s tough to tell whether your photo will have enough depth of field to make for striking refocusing effects. The Illum’s screen looks big and beautiful, and there’s a neat dynamic preview that outlines the people and objects in your scene. This time around, you should have a much better idea of the end result before you press the shutter.

The big new lens should go a long way towards improving image quality. It’s a custom design with 8x optical zoom capability (30mm-250mm equivalent) with a constant aperture of f/2. Lytro doesn’t measure images in megapixels. Instead it uses megarays, and while it’s hard for us mere mortals to understand exactly what that means, the Illum’s sensor captures 40 of them, vs. the first Lytro’s 11. Photos are now in a standard 3:2 aspect ratio instead of the earlier model’s Polaroid-like square format, and Lytro’s sample images, at least, are much crisper and more detailed than previous “living pictures.”

Speaking of sample images, here they are. You can refocus and zoom around them; press the arrow icons to move between photos.

As before, you can share Lytro photos online (like I just did above) and view them in the Lytro app for the iPhone and iPad. There’s also a new feature that lets you create videos that pan in and out of a still Lytro image, focusing the scene as they go. It looks a little like a 3D “Ken Burns” effect, and some of it is visible in the below video produced by Lytro.

By pushing the Lytro Illum so far up the photographic food chain, the company answers the challenge from smartphone apps by pretty much avoiding it. Judging from Lytro’s samples, nobody will look at Illum photos and say “My phone can do that.”

So does that mean that Lytro is opting out of the mainstream consumer market? I asked Ren Ng, the company’s founder and chairman, that question. He said that’s not the case at all: There will be further models aimed at a wider audience of snapshot takers, and Lytro still believes that all photography will be light-field photography someday.

For now, this camera is aimed at a relatively small group of people who are really smitten with light-field photography and willing to spend a lot of money to do it as well as possible. For them, it looks like it’s going to be neat. And at least the rest of us will have the opportunity to look at some of the pictures they shoot.

Technologizer

A Rare Look Inside an Apple Data Center

Yet more proof that Apple is not quite as secretive as it once was, when it thinks openness is in its own interest: The company showed off one of its data centers, in Sparks, Nevada, to Wired’s Stephen Levy for a good piece on its renewable-energy efforts. They’re led by Lisa Jackson, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ninety-four percent of the power at Apple’s corporate campus and server farms is now renewable, provided by sources such as solar, wind and hydroelectric energy. One hundred percent of the power at Apple’s own data centers — it also uses co-location facilities owned by others — is renewable.

Both Google and Facebook are also aiming for 100% renewable data centers, but have a long way left to go. However, since Apple, unlike those companies, is primarily a producer of physical objects, being environmentally correct involves a different set of challenges and a lot more than data:

Aluminum is huge for Apple—it’s the main material in laptops, phones and iPads. Thus the impact of mining and processing that metal makes up for a substantial part of Apple’s carbon footprint. That’s why Jackson took notice last year when an engineer told her that he felt something wasn’t right with the way Apple measured that impact. Later, a second engineer reported similar suspicions. In her telling, Jackson could have dismissed this disquiet by noting that Apple was simply conforming to the standard methods of measuring the damage in a given process. But she encouraged efforts at Apple to revisit those standards. Indeed, Apple’s reexamination discovered that using the conventional yardstick, it was dramatically underestimating the emissions its aluminum use was dumping into the atmosphere—by a factor of four. Apple had to adjust its figures to reflect this. As a result, the company did not fulfill its expectation that its carbon footprint would be ten percent smaller in 2013 than previous years—it was nine percent larger. Apple would have to work harder to make its goals.

Levy’s story is full of intriguing nuggets, but one item a lot of people are probably wondering about goes unmentioned. He says that the only thing about his data-center visit Apple told him he couldn’t share with the world was the name of the manufacturer of the servers that power it. All he can disclose is that “they are not Mac Mini’s or anything else that you’d buy in an Apple store.”

Technologizer

The History of Technology, as Told in Wacky British Pathé Newsreels

How computers--gigantic, noisy ones--changed practically everything

In an inventive, generous act, British Pathé has uploaded its entire collection of 85,000 pieces of footage from vintage newsreels to YouTube. If you stop by to check it out, you might have trouble pulling yourself away. It’s a fascinating survey of what happened to the world from 1896-1976, told in bite-sized chunks.

The collection is searchable, so I pulled up some choice bits relating to computers–especially how they got used to automate practically everything in the 1960s. This stuff was amazing at the time–especially, it seems, if you were a British newsreel announcer.

1949: An engineer teaches a machine to play noughts and crosses, better known to you and me as tic-tac-toe

1962: Pan Am and IBM sign a deal to computerize airplane reservations (watching this, it hit me: how the heck did they do them before computers?)

1966: Rowland Emett, the Rube Goldberg of the U.K., demonstrates his homemade computer

1967: During an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease, horse-racing fans settle for a computerized simulation

1967: The latest in automation–from the Auto-Typist to a pocket-sized dictation machine–gets demonstrated at the Business Efficiency Exhibition

1968: Honeywell demonstrates its “girl robot,” Miss Honeywell, who, I regret to say, I suspect of being an elaborate hoax

1968: A report on the Univac-powered Tinder of its day, complete with a Beatles soundtrack

1968: A Putney man composes music with his home computer, which happens to be a PDP-8 minicomputer

One thing I learned from watching all of these: Unless British Pathé sweetened its soundtracks, computers used to be noisy. I’m just as glad we no longer have to listen to that incessant clackety, clackety, clackety, clacking.

Technologizer

Bye-Bye FuelBand: Nike Won’t Be the Last Company to Get Out of Wearable Hardware

Nike FuelBand
Nike

A pioneer in fitness trackers decides they don't have a future--at least as a Nike product line

Nick Statt of Cnet has a scoop: He’s reporting that Nike is laying off most of the people on its team responsible for the FuelBand fitness tracker. Instead of making its own hardware, the company will focus on fitness-related software henceforth.

It’s impossible to hear this news without bringing up the fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook is on Nike’s board and wondering whether it relates in any way to any plans Apple might have in the smart watch/fitness category. There, I just did. But that’s all I’m going to say, because who knows?

This I do know: I’m sorry to see the FuelBand go away. Though it didn’t do anywhere near as much as a Fitbit or Jawbone Up, I loved Nike’s hardware design, with its straightforward display and a clasp that locked securely and doubled as a USB connector. (It’s one of the few wearables that doesn’t make you keep track of a stupid little charging dongle.) I was hoping to see it evolve further; Statt says an upcoming model was canceled, though the current FuelBand SE will stay on the market.

Still, I think it’s possible that Nike’s move is a smart one, strategically. There are just gazillions and gazillions of fitness trackers on the market now–a little like there were once gazillions of e-readers, and before that, gazillions of MP3 players. And now phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S5 are adding enough fitness-related features–it even has a heart-rate monitor–to render a wristband superfluous for some folks. (The evidence suggests that Apple plans to turn the iPhone into a health aid, too. )

Bottom line: Whether or not Nike has any specific knowledge of anything Apple might be planning to unveil, it has a good idea which way the wind is blowing. I’ll bet it won’t be the last player to exit this category.

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