Nike+ and Apple: Tune Your Run

By Graham K. Rogers

The Nike Moiré
The Nike Moiré

As a kid in 60s London, the frequent cross-country runs in a local park were not to my taste at all. As we went round and round the park, we could often see the teacher sitting on one of the bridges smoking a sly cigarette. I took to running a little in the 70s, as police training expected us to be fit young Bobbies. Reality soon cut in.

In the last 25 years there has been a great upsurge in numbers of people who are jogging for exercise. More recently commercial gyms have enjoyed immense popularity. As some types of exercise are solitary, a common accessory is an MP3 player, like the iPod. While a few years ago only 25% of joggers used such a device, now 25% do not.

These days major sportswear companies are continually developing specialist shoes. With Apple, Nike have developed the Nike+ system that links a small receiever connected to an iPod nano to a transmitter inserted in to the left shoe. The device in the shoe collects data from a run (or a walk in my case) and sends it to the iPod.

During the run, as well as the music, a voice announces milestones reached, such as time, or distance. At the completion of the workout, the voice gives the workout statistics which are also displayed on the iPod.

Nike and Apple are releasing the Nike+ shoe range and the Nike + kit in the S.E. Asia region on 1 April. Apple retailers will sell the kit and the iPods, while Nike outlets will have the kit and the shoes.

The Nike Airplus range plus iPods

I attended the local offices of Nike on Sathorn Road recently where we were given a rundown of the system, by Nattaporn Runghajornklin (Mhog) who is based in Singapore. Nike recognises the significance of the iPod and worked with Apple to develop this system. It adds interest to a runner's workouts and as well as personal goals, the information can be shared with runners worldwide.

The sharing is done via iTunes and Nike websites. When the iPod is synchronised with iTunes, data is collected. This can be shared via websites. The worldwide site is www.nikeplus.com and there is a dedicated Thai site which is already up and running.

The Nike+ site

Nike want to be able to forge a community of those who enjoy their exercise and who want to spice up the normally solo nature: a jogger in Lumpini can compare data with one in London's Hyde Park, for example, and challenge up to five others using the system.

Nike and Apple claim that the device, which slips into a slot beneath the sock liner of the left shoe, is 92% accurate out of the box and 97% accurate when calibrated for the individual.

The tech stuff

Mhog was keen to show off the device and concentrated on the Air Zoom Moire + although there are a dozen mens' and womens' shoes in the range, priced at 3,000 to 5,000 baht. Like Apple, Nike is keen to create an overal user experience with the clothes as well as the shoes, so certain shirts are designed with an iPod nano pocket. There is also an armband.

The nano was chosen for its specific features: size, weight (42 gms.), thinness, and its flash memory construction which means there is no skipping as might occur with a disk.

When the system is in use, a runner would not be able to see the screen so there is audio feedback. There are male or female voices which can be selected via the iPod's menu.

The shoe unit is sealed to protect the components and the battery cannot be changed. I was told that battery life is 1,000 hours, which is expected to be about three years: the shoes will run out before the battery. The system shuts down automatically when not in use. To start, we have to walk around. Each sender unit is paired to its receiver which works in the 2.4GHz band.

Software for the Nike + is already installed in the nano but it is invisible until the receiver is attached. Then a menu item is activated allowing the user to calibrate the device in several ways or just to start jogging.

Airplus in the gym

I saw a demonstration of the Nike + in use. A gym instructor used a treadmill device and ran for a preset distance. As he was exercising, the voice could be heard offering encouragement and counting down to when the target was reached and then exceeded. When the iPod button was pressed to signal the end of the workout, the voice of Lance Armstrong came on offering congratulations as the target was passed.

I must admit some scepticism. However, in the first 24 hours of trying this system out, I found that I was eager to compare the speed and calories burned with earlier information, perhaps to indicate I was improving. I will be playing with this for a couple of weeks before reporting again.

Late Note:
A couple of days ago in a report on Nike and its business plans for the future, one little section caught my eye with its relevance to the main article this week: "Nike did say it plans to make all its running shoes compatible with its Nike+ technology by the end of the year. Nike+ allows runners to track their workouts with Apple Inc.'s iPod."

See also, Exercise with the iTunes, the Nike + and an iPod nano

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