Apple Hires Nike’s Ben Shaffer, but He Isn’t a Wearable Tech Guy

| Analysis

Apple piqued the interest of wearable technology fans again when word surfaced that it had hired Nike product designer Ben Shaffer. Instead of hiring someone that was directly involved in the Nike FuelBand project, as had been suggested, Apple brought a shoe designer on board and that raises a reasonable question: Why?

Apple hires Nike shoe designerApple hires Nike shoe designer

The assumption was that Mr. Shaffer would take his expertise and knowledge about Nike's FuelBand wrist band and apply that to Apple's own rumored iWatch. The FuelBand logs your fitness activity, and then relays that data to mobile devices.

That sounds like a good fit -- except for the fact that Mr. Shaffer wasn't part of the FuelBand team. Fast Company had the opportunity to spend some time with Mr. Shaffer when he still worked for Nike, and it was very clear that he was involved in different projects and was very much a part of the Flyknit team in the company's Innovation Kitchen division -- a research and development team that isn't even in the same building as the FuelBand group.

So Apple hired a shoe guy.

Assuming Mr. Shaffer will be part of Apple's wearable tech projects, it's possible the company is working on footwear that talks with your iPhone -- much like the original Nike+ product that added a Bluetooth pedometer to your running shoes. Possible, but it's hard to imagine stacks of iFeet, or iShoes, or iRuns in Foot Locker.

Mr. Shaffer also knows a lot about how fabrics weave together. That could have some potential since he has insight that could prove valuable if Apple is looking at implanting sensors into clothing or other wearable accessories.

It's also possible that Apple simply sees a great designer in Mr. Shaffer and they want him on Team Cupertino. He has years of experience with innovative product design, and even ran Nike's Innovation Kitchen team. He gets product design and brand building, both of which would be valuable assets for Apple.

What Apple isn't getting is a FuelBand designer, which is fine because they already took care of that by hiring Jay Blahnik, the fitness and personal trainer pro that worked closely with Nike on the project. Apple also hired Paul Deneve from Yves St Laurent, has former  Senior Vice President of Technologies Bob Mansfield reporting to CEO Tim Cook on special projects, and a very clear interest in wearable technology.

The company has already dabbled some in wearable tech with the iPod shuffle and the iPod nano. Some nano models were wrist watch size and third party companies quickly stepped in to make wrist bands so people could wear them as watches instead of clipping them to their clothes.

The iPhone 5s also has what Apple is calling the M7 processor -- a chip that tracks motion and fitness activities. Putting all those pieces together paints a very interesting picture, one that shows Apple really is very interested in wearable technology.

While the company hasn't made a full on jump into the market, it's very clear the competition is watching closely. Samsung is watching so closely, in fact, that the company chose to launch it's own smartwatch that appeared to be little more than a prototype just to beat Apple to market.

Just to make the point clear: Samsung is concerned enough about Apple's entrance into the wearable tech market that it threw together a prototype watch, and released it to the public based on nothing more than rumors that Apple was working on its own smartwatch.

Apple hasn't released any wearable tech products yet, nor has it even suggested any are really on the way. What is clear is that Apple has a very serious interest in the market, and is building up a dream team for its wearable tech plans. That should have the competition very worried.

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4 Comments

Rogifan 1

He was an innovative desiger at Nike.  Why wouldn’t Apple want to hire him?

aardman

Fashion and Tech.  Everything points to that.  Not the whole company, but I expect when the wearable products come out, they’ll be as much high fashion as high tech.  Apple might even launch a new sub-label for it.

iJack

I don’t want my goddam shoes talking to my goddam iPhone!
The only thing they could have in common is ME, and I don’t want them talking about ME.

Sofia Yuan

Wearable developers, technologists, designers, telecom and hardware providers are set to attend Wearable Computing Conference 2013 in New York next November 7, the biggest forum on wearable technologies on the East Coast.

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