When Nike+ rolled out, it was clever but also limited: It only tracked how far you were running. If you weren’t a runner, you were left out of the fun. But with a revamp of Nike+, Nike is presenting a whole new, interactive way to track your workout progress on your iPhone.
The new extensions, Nike+ Training and Nike+ Basketball, use pressure sensors to measure and log your workouts—figuring out how high you’re jumping and how hard you’re running. Nike+ Training acts as a mobile personal trainer, offering up more than 100 different drills used by the brand’s top athletes, including boxing star Manny Pacquiao’s 30-second jump rope drill. Nike+ Basketball measures other stats: vertical jump, quickness and "hustle," or how hard you play. Both extensions allow you to share your achievements. And just like with their Fuelband activity monitor, all of that physical exertion gets tracked using NikeFuel, the company’s proprietary scale for measuring your total physical activity.
This expanding universe of apps and hardware are an attempt to overhaul how we actually think about fitness and exercise, says Stefan Olander, Nike’s VP of digital sport. "It’s not a one-off experience; it’s a portfolio of services and experiences that ultimately become the home for your entire athletic life," Olander says. "We know a lot about what technology can do to help you get better."
The technology that makes Nike+ Training and Basketball possible is a leap forward from the original key-sized sensor you slipped inside your shoe to track your runs. While the first pod measured contact time, the new Nike+ sensor can measure pressure through a super-thin mylar-based pad that mimics the shape of your sole and is tucked inside the shoe.
The pad has sensors on four pressure points—under your toe, heel, and the first and fifth metatarsal head—that connect to a central "sport sensor," Olander tells Co.Design. This central nerve features an accelerometer, processing power, and a radio to collect and combine data. "Then, through custom-made algorithms, it knows what your foot is doing inside the shoe and broadcasts it real time on your phone through Bluetooth LE (Low Energy)," Olander explains. "This is the intersection of the physical and digital world."
Nike is also banking on the gamification of everyday life, pioneered by social apps such as SCVNGR and Gowalla. Your motivation is meant to come from friends: A leader board that tracks how you’re doing compared to them. It also features Facebook and Twitter sharing so you can broadcast your NikeFuel score. We got a test run of Nike+ Training, and we have to say it’s pretty addictive. After placing first on the leaderboard for jump roping (not to brag), I wanted to slip the shoes back on to maintain my lead. Nike execs say that kind of competition will push people to keep exercising.
Nike+ Training and Basketball—along with the new line of shoes that feature the technology—will be available June 29. There’s no official leaderboard for how Nike stacks up against its competition, but we’re guessing that Adidas’s miCoach, FitBit, Jawbone, and the rest are feeling the burn—and stepping their game up.