The athletic giant’s groundbreaking wearable. (Tim Tomkinson)

The original wearable technology for athletes. Long before Fitbit and the Apple Watch, there was the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, a pedometer that fit into a shoe and transmitted data to an iPod Nano. Introduced in 2006, the pioneering device was the first in a series of products released under the Nike+ banner, and it marked the beginning of the brand’s ongoing partnership with Apple. By 2012, when competitors were still asking consumers to clip or pocket their trackers, the world’s largest sneaker company had migrated its hardware to the wrist—a move that the industry has since followed.

The Nike+ FuelBand was an LED-lit wearable that tracked activity in “fuel points”—a company-derived metric for acceleration. “Nike could have easily owned the activity-tracker space,” says Tyson Miller, design director for Vancouver-based Recon, maker of heads-up display units for cycling and snowboarding. “There was a fashion component to it. They made all their supporting software simple for mainstream, nontech people. We looked at them and said, ‘They’re doing it right.’ ”

Within a year and a half, Nike’s FuelBand was competing against a new wave of more versatile devices. Products like the Fitbit Flex and Misfit Shine also collected exercise data, but their smaller size and additional features like sleep tracking broadened their appeal to non-athletes. By 2014, Nike claimed that 24 million people were using the device but still opted to retreat in the face of explosive growth in the category, focusing instead on software for other companies’ hardware, most notably the Apple Watch. “That tightness between Apple and Nike was probably what led to the downfall of the Fuel-Band,” says Misfit CEO Sonny Vu, noting that the tracker was originally sold only through Apple and Nike stores and wasn’t initially offered in the potentially lucrative Asian markets. “We had more distribution than Nike as a one-year-old startup.” Today, Nike+ lives on as a suite of apps (for both Android and iOS devices) and online tools. In the category it launched, it’s now just running with the pack.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

While countless wearable fitness gadgets have hit the market since the Nike+, the same core tech drives them all.

Measures vibrations associated with nongravitational acceleration to detect movement and speed.

Determines orientation by indicating rate of rotation around an axis.

GPS receiver
Communicates with satellite networks to track geographical location, speed, and elevation.

Optical sensor
Measures heart rate by detecting the volume of vascular blood flow.

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