Gadgets for humans

Nike’s new smart shoe is a step in the right direction for wearable tech

None of that step tracking BS, thank goodness

I’m generally wary of wearable tech, because a lot of ‘innovation’ in the space is geared towards jamming unnecessary circuitry and functionality into articles of clothing that work just fine without them. Case in point: notifications on smartwatches (come fight me, but only after you read this).

But maybe there’s some sense in adding tech to apparel yet. With its new Adapt BB, Nike’s created a basketball shoe that can tighten or loosen itself to fit your foot just right – no laces necessary. You can use an app or buttons on the soles to adjust the tightness, and recall your favorite settings for them from your phone.

As Eric Avar, VP & creative director at Nike Innovation, told The Verge, the broader vision is for such shoes to become smart enough to detect your blood pressure and automatically adjust themselves so you’re comfortable even when your feet are swollen from strenuous physical activity.

I’m in favor of this sort of innovation for two reasons. The first is based on personal experience: I’ve generally just laced up my shoes for the gym and badminton the one clunky way I learned as a child (here’s a handy guide for correcting common fit issues). That’s led to my heel slipping back and forth, sometimes causing pains and unsteady footing. I could certainly get behind shoes that ensure a perfect fit every single time.

The other reason is that this technology is specifically designed to enhance the shoe’s functionality as protection for your feet – nothing more. There are other products that can take care of things like counting your burned calories and guiding your workouts, some arguably much better suited for those tasks than shoes.

The lace engine built into the Adapt BB lets you adjust the fit of the shoe using the app or buttons on the sole
Credit: Nike
The lace engine built into the Adapt BB lets you adjust the fit of the shoe using the app or buttons on the sole

This is the sort of thing that hardware makers should strive to achieve: creating technology that applies uniquely to their products, to provide benefits that users can’t get through other means. You can count steps using other smart shoes or a fitness band, but you can’t ensure a perfect fit for your feet with said fitness band – and that’s a valuable opportunity for Nike and its ilk.

As for the Adapt BB, they’re designed for basketball players, cost a whopping $350 – about six times what I paid for my current favorite pair of shoes – and I’m not a fan of how they look. So while I’m not going to rush out and pick up a pair of these kicks anytime soon (they’ll be available next month), I’m keen on seeing iterations of these smart shoes on my feet at some point in the near future.

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Published January 16, 2019 — 10:30 UTC