When the Nike + iPod Sport Kit was announced almost two months ago, the general public was thrilled, skeptical, or constructively critical about the high-tech iPod fitness system, in which a Nike shoe "talks" to an iPod Nano wirelessly. We've seen digital pedometer/calorie counters before, but the Nike-Apple union had us wondering how far this concept could go. So this morning, when the kit became available, we ran down to the local Niketown store in a pair of New Balances and returned in a pair of new Nikes in addition to the requisite Sport Kit.
The Nike + iPod Sport Kit may not be for everybody (certainly not for Adidas-sportin' Creative fans), but the way the system works is pretty cool even from the sidelines. It requires that you have an iPod Nano with the latest firmware (1.2), the $29 Sport Kit, which includes a tiny adapter that attaches to the Nano and a tiny medallion of a pedometer that fits inside the shoe, and special Nike + running shoes (actually, you don't have to buy the shoes...more later). To get the most out of the experience, you'll need to upgrade iTunes to version 6.0.5 or higher and you'll need Web access to log and study your data on Nikeplus.com.
We picked up a pair of silver Nike + Moires for $110 (other styles are available now or will be soon). The store wasn't swarming, but a few early adopters were champing at the bit when it opened. The shoes themselves are lightweight and attractive and come in a variety of styles. The Nike + branding tells you that there is a 1.25-inch elliptical hole buried beneath the insert in the left shoe. In addition to being an ideal place for your stash, the hole is where you stick the sport kit pedometer. This device tracks your steps and communicates wirelessly (using a proprietary version of 802.11) with the adapter on the Nano. The Nano itself records and displays--in near real time--statistics such as distance traveled, pace, calories burned, and time elapsed.
Obviously the system is set up so that Nike sells more shoes, though we wonder if consumers will buy an iPod Nano just for this feature. We'd prefer to see a system that was less proprietary, though you could pick up only the Sport Kit and use it without Nike shoes as long as you had a way to secure it (think: those skate shoes with hidden pockets, or a tiny fanny pack for your shoe). Which leads us to an important caveat: the pedometer does not have a replaceable battery, so it will die in time. The Nike salesperson told us it would last about 1,000 miles or one year for the typical customer, so that's a new Sport Kit a year on average (Apple states 1,000 hours, not miles). You can and should, however, turn the pedometer off when it's not in use; in fact, you'll need to turn it off on an airplane "to comply with government regulations." Outside of investing in a new pair of shoes (or not), the overall system is inexpensive for Nano owners--and well worth it for data-driven runners.
Jogging in downtown San Francisco
It was the hottest morning in weeks, and I had my jeans on. I power walked back to the office with the new shoes, big Nike bag in tow, and was able to record two workouts. On the Nano menu you'll find a new Nike + iPod option. Here you can view results, such as personal best or start new workouts. My first workout was based on time (20 minutes) while the second was based on distance (3K). You can also enter your weight and base your workout on calories burned.
Presumably you'd be wearing the Nano avec Sport Kit in one of these Nike armbands ($29). The sleek armband covers the display, so you'll need to rely on the pleasant male or female (or choose none) voice prompts, which activate at milestones ("Five minutes elapsed in this workout") or when you press the Select button, in which you get a full status of your workout. The voice also alerts you when you're near your goal ("100 meters to go") and gives you that extra push. The voice interjects over the music, which fades into the background. By the way, most iPod Nano armbands won't work or fit with the Nike adapter attached, so be aware of that.