The High-Tech Texan Blog

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Tech Fun Run

It's rare when people ask for my thoughts on a product BEFORE it is released. Last month when Nike announced they would be integrating a way for their shoes to talk to an iPod, I was peppered with emails and callers asking for a review and info.

As an avid runner I get a lot of demo shoes (built with the "latest technology"), sweatproof clothes, wickable sweatbands, GPS watches and many other things that sometime don't live up to their press releases.

But today the much anticipated product hit the streets and I got one of the first pair of Nike + iPod shoes and accompanying gear. I literally took them out for a test run and...

The real magic is not in the shoes but rather the wireless kit that allows the connection. The kit comes with a small sensor that fits inside the sole of the left shoe and a receiver unit that plugs into an iPod nano. An important point here - this kit ($29.95 retail) only works with the nano which does makes sense. According to Apple most nano owners use the device when working out plus the small and lightweight unit is the easiest of the many versions to run with.

Nano owners will need to upgrade to the newest version of the iPod software (v 1.2) which comes with the Nike + iPod interface. Plug the receiver into the nano and a new menu selection will appear which controls the running statistics.

Interestingly enough the wireless connection between the sensor and receiver is not Bluetooth or even 802.11. It is in the unregulated 2.4GHz range but is likely based on Dynastream's ANT platform. Through my first 8 mile run I had no problem keeping the connection (though I am wondering when I hit a puddle if I will be electrocuted!).

You'll still need those earphone wires to listen to music during your run. The program has instant audio feedback that tells you your time, distance, pace and calories burned while you run. For some reason I like the female voice rather than the male audible choice - she seemed to make me run faster. I found the calibration process a bit tedious..I don't know EXACTLY how far 400 meters is for the initial adjustment. I'll have to measure that out later.

Nike initially has released six pairs of shoes (3 men, 3 women) with the small cutout pocket within the insole. The shoes are rather plain-looking for Nike but many more versions will soon be released (duh!). I can't help but wonder if the kit will still work with any pair of shoes as long as the sensor is attached. If that's the case then it may not be necessary to dole out the $100 for a pair.

You can't really describe anything from Nike or Apple without using the term sexy. That's where the web site comes in. NikePlus.com is designed for the worldwide running community to gather, upload data from their iPods, download pumped up running tunes and track individual runs.

The graphics are, um, pretty sexy as they let you sort and compare runs by date, time or distance. I taper my running during the hot summer months but am anxious to see my charts come marathon training season later this year. Alas, there is no way to cheat and upload a time that would rival Roger Bannister.

And what would a new product release from Nike be without an entire line of clothes? Shirts, shorts, jackets and and armband that hold the nano snug during runs. Lance Armstrong is the spokesrunner for all this gear and I still can't figure out why all this stuff looks better on him.

If you are an avid runner or someone into tracking your time and distance, this is indeed a unique innovation. The technology is still based on pedometer-like measurements and my wish list would have GPS-based data used. But that would mandate a sensor with constant exposure to the sky and probably a lot more battery power.

Something tells me that's planned for Version 2.

1 Comments:

  • Very nice review. I have heard about these shoes and have been wondering if it's worth the money and effort.

    Training for my first marathon now so I think I'll get a pair. Where can I buy them?

    By Anonymous Jeffrey, at 8:26 AM  

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