No doubt you have all seen and heard a little whisper of the new Apple x Nike project known as Nike+ (or Nike Plus). The project was launched in New York in late May with a suitably quixotic media event on Chelsea Pier featuring Mark Parker (Nike CEO) and Steve Jobs (Apple CEO). I think it’s safe to say they are the owners of the two largest brains i’ve ever seen live on stage.
Incredibly, their monster secret was kept in-house until a day prior to the event, which is a fair achievement in this crazy world of insane internet gossip and techno blogduggery. On the morning of the show, Crackberries went into meltdown as rumours finally leaked and began to circulate amongst the Apple techheads online. Over an hour or so, Nike+ was revealed to the audience - it’s a collaboration, it’s another Nike division, a website, a training tool, a whole series of apparel and most importantly (and abstractly I might add) it’s a new technology designed to allow people to connect.
Only the bean counters know how much development like this costs but it’s in the millions I’m guessing which gives you some idea of the perceived economic raw potential of the newest Nike recruit. And as anyone who was at the event could plainly see, what we were being shown was only the tip of a titanic iceberg. With a small degree of lateral thinking, this project could go in a million metaphorical directions. Dare I say it, and without laying it on too thick I hope, Nike+ could redefine the existing running market as well as reignite a global army of flabby pavement pounders not seen since the days of Jim Fixx.
From the Micropacer to the Puma RS100 and most recently the adidas 1.0 shoe, ‘computers’ have been integrated into sneakers several times over the years. But they’ve always been fairly clunky affairs loaded with primitive technology, a premium price tag and most unfortunately, a literally heavy load. Nike+ does share some basic functions with those shoes, but it is a far, far more advanced beast that also has an ingenious extra string to its bow, it allows you to use music and audio instructions to enhance your running experience. And then there’s the really cool part. The website.
Never thought I’d say that about a pair of shoes.
So how does it work? Well let’s start with the small widget for your shoes. It slots neatly into the sole of your left sneaker, reportedly lasts for 1000 hours and is programmed to wirelessly monitor your progress using an accelerometer. While you’re on the road, the widget chats with your iPod which provides real-time audio feedback on your speed, distance, how many calories you’ve burned and whether your bum looks big in silky shorts from behind. Like any runner with an iPod, you can program a series of songs to accompany your run but what Nike+ has added is a one touch ‘power button’ which will instantly fire up your personal ‘Eye of the Tiger’ whenever you need a quick nitrous boost to get you up a hill or round the final lap.
And then when you get home, you simply connect your iPod to the computer and all the data is uploaded to your machine via the Nike+ website. The site logs all the data from your runs and allows you to analyze your running times and make pie graphs and bar diagrams and spread sheets about your progress, goals and best times. All of which sounds eminently practical but hardly revolutionary right? Ok, here’s where I think the coolness kicks in. Like Myspace on Deep Heat, Nike+ also allows you to connect with other runners. If you’ve got a mate in California, a sister in Timbuktu and you’re all hankering for a contest, you can challenge each other to a derby. Five miles this week? Ten the next? You betcha!
So although you are physically isolated, the software enables you to run as a team, or as competitors. Even with a basic understanding of human psychology, you’d think this will offer more motivation for the great unfit hordes than a lifetime of Tony Robbins tapes. And I also have to confess something at this point. It was a disturbing feeling to be at the launch and – against all previous known variables – suddenly, madly and deeply wanting to start running just like Forrest. Not right then of course... tomorrow. Or when I get my iPod.
From Apple’s point of view, the deal no doubt accomplishes several things. Firstly it further rams home the incredible market penetration of the iPod, a gadget that has violated the electronics consumer psyche like no other. Curiously, despite its ubiquitous nature, there’s appears to be no looming iPod backlash. Secondly, it puts Apple’s iTunes in a very sound (pun intended) position to capitalise on Lord knows how many ways to leverage sales from runners.
One thing is for sure, the iPod’s category-killing clout was seemingly enough to prevent Nike from entertaining thoughts of developing their own media player. Nuff said. Blackspot nutjobs and conspiracy fiends will also no doubt ruminate on the implications of providing companies with any kind of personal information. What exactly does Nike and Apple learn from all this raw running data? I can only hazard a guess, but it’s probably more to do with music consumption than how many miles are clocked every week. Likewise, similar paranoia hasn’t stopped many opening Gmail accounts with Google.
And lastly, as far as the footwear is concerned, the new Zoom Moire is an inspired choice by Nike. It’s a lovechild of the Nike Free with a graphic designer in-joke for a name. For trainer spotters, the Moire features an upper lifted from the Airhead 360 prize designed by Mark Smith... I wonder how this came about? The fact that it doesn’t necessarily ‘look’ like a running shoe and yet it was still chosen as the debut vehicle for the launch says volumes for their confidence in the ultra-light concept. Certainly, the visual reaction from sneaker novices I know suggests that the shoe is definitely a winner.
Like Jordan Brand, Cross Training, FREE, ACG, SB, Considered and others before them, Nike has somehow created yet another new brand within itself, which will grow no doubt from this simple idea to a cultural behemoth. And that, in a nutshell, is how you go from making running shoes with a waffle iron to a 20 gazillion dollar outfit in thirty years.
They just do it. Now where’s my iPod?