Originally published on LinkedIn
Nike recently unveiled its latest innovation in footwear, the Adapt BB – an app-connected smart-shoe that allows the basketball athlete to adjust the fit of the shoe for different scenarios – warm-ups, in-game, and on the bench. And it’s utterly pointless.
You see, I worked nearly a decade in specialty running retail, fitting runners, walkers, and fitness-fanatics into footwear appropriate for their individual foot-types and needs. I understand the demands that running long distances put on the human foot, and I’ve seen the visible changes that occur during and after a marathon. Foot swelling is a reality when you’re continuously active for 2-3 hours – and even more-so during an 8-10 hour 50 mile race, which I’ve completed twice. And you know what I’ve never wished I had? A shoe I can adjust through my phone. So how is it that a basketball player, who plays at-most 40 minutes of a 48 minute game, can experience such incredible swelling and changes to their foot that they need a shoe that adjusts through their phone?
I am not a basketball player anymore, so perhaps the demands of the game have changed since I was in high school, but I just can’t imagine the need for this technology on the hardwood. Imagine LeBron whipping out his phone to make shoe adjustments during a time-out or as he prepares to shoot free-throws. It’s an absurd visual.
Furthermore, the press release referenced above talks about how shoe laces have not evolved in 5,000 years. Well, that’s because they’re pretty damn effective at what they do. Sure, shoelaces occasionally come untied, which can be annoying, but you know what innovative solution humans came up with for that problem? Double-knotting.
Shoelaces also provide so many options for customized fit! Have a bunion? There is a lacing pattern to reduce pressure. Have a high instep? There’s a lacing technique for that. Heel slipping? You guessed it, there’s a lacing technique. There are lacing techniques for pretty much any fit issues that you might come across in an athletic shoe.
So really, what is Nike trying to accomplish with the “years” of innovation and development they put into solving a problem that doesn’t exist? Judging by the article shares I’ve seen about the announcement, they’re simply doing what they do best: marketing.
For years companies have been trying to integrate smart technology into footwear. Adidas launched the “1” in 2004, which adjusted rigidity on-the-fly – and weighed 3 pounds each and felt like a moonboot. Nike integrated a glorified pedometer that sat beneath the sock-liner and connected with FuelBands or the Nike+ app, and was wildly inaccurate at reporting distance. In fact, there are dozens of smart-tech “innovations” in the footwear industry that, simply put, do absolutely nothing.
Personally, I think it will take years before smart technology is effectively applied to athletic footwear. In the meantime, performance brands will be better off placing their R&D budget and resources into material innovation – where tangible performance advancements are made to weight, cushioning, breathability, and weather management – to differentiate themselves from their competitors and provide the end-consumer improved function and performance, which is always a problem worth solving.