Friday, June 02, 2006

Switched On: Baby steps toward intelligent apparel

Ross Rubin at NPD Group pens his regular Switched On column at Engadget about the Apple (AAPL) and Nike (NKE) Nike+iPod partnership. Rubin poked some "eyelets" into the first product announced:

The system that the hardware and footwear giants trotted out works with only one form factor of iPod, albeit Apple's most popular and one that is well-suited to running.

The dock-connector receiver that picks up the sensor's signal protrudes from the nano and may cause problems for some carrying cases. In addition, the NikePlus online service, while slick, has no integration with dotMac, Apple's set of online services that have been a sleeper story since all the online excitement around the iTunes Music Store surfaced. And, finally, the "PowerSong" feature sounds like the kind of device that has magically reinvigorates cartoons, like spinach for Popeye, clapping for Tinkerbell or breakups for Nick Lachey. Indeed, the partnership will probably do little to move the needle of Apple's iPod market share in the short run. Most runners who have been in the market for an MP3 player probably purchased an iPod anyway, and competition for real-time data tracking as it exists in Garmin's Forerunner GPS watch is a relatively small market for now.
Rubin does point out some of the potential positives of the deal and states:
In any case, the Nike+Apple system demonstrates how popular electronics products can be inexpensively accessorized to enhance their functionality, particularly when there isn't a complicating factor involved such as a cellular business model. While the Moire sneaker shown at the launch event sells for $100, Nike representatives noted that sneakers starting at $85 will be able to accommodate the transmitter. The Web presence will even help connect Nike shoe customers across the country – a rare if unprecedented phenomenon for an apparel product – and may even open up new avenues for direct communication with its customer base.
He concludes with:
For Apple, the short term offers explosure to more iTunes music sales, but the iPod now continues on its race toward becoming a universal mobile data and media repository ahead of the cell phone. The once exclusively music-focused device that resisted video for years now gains the ability to wireless add a new kind of data from the physical world, providing a solution that is years ahead of mainstream intelligent clothing. If it never goes further than this, though, then at least the iPod had a good run.