The original shoes-meets-iPod system was essentially a fancy digital pedometer. But even that simple setup resulted in a certain mania among enthusiasts, and Facebook feeds the world over remain clogged with run updates to this day. Despite its limitations, people warmed to Nike+ because it encouraged them to run farther and more often.
Now Nike has expanded its “+” empire by issuing both cross-training and basketball shoes equipped with the company’s digital dressing. This lets us non-runners taste the thrill of tracking our accomplishments, sharing them with friends, and virtually competing with others who’ve bought into the Nike+ ecosystem.
The shoes feature a series of sensors embedded throughout, and a small rechargeable dongle that gets inserted in the sole under your foot will use wireless path to transfer your stats via Bluetooth to your iPhone.
The shoes track three metrics. First is Fuel Points, Nike’s proprietary system for measuring overall activity. Fuel Points are the same catch-all stat used by Nike’s new Fuel Band, and while they aren’t as clear as calories, steps, or some other comprehensible movement stat, they actually don’t take that long to get a handle on. You quickly learn how much activity it takes to reach, say, 1,000 points.
The shoes measure vertical leap by calculating time spent in the air, and it turns out this is pretty effective. Unless you are actively trying to cheat, the shoes give consistent readings.
The second metric, and probably the most fun to play around with, is vertical leap. The shoes measure this by calculating time spent in the air, and it turns out this is pretty effective. Unless you are actively trying to cheat, the shoes give consistent readings. It doesn’t matter if you lift your legs, leave them straight, or kick out your feet David Lee Roth-style, your vertical leap stays the same.
Finally, the shoes gauge quickness by measuring steps per second. This seems simple, but it remains a little fuzzy in my head. (What about stride length?) It’s enough to know that if you simply run faster, you score higher.
As one would expect from a pair of high-end Nikes, they’re light and supportive, and the advanced impact-absorbing materials feel great on the court.
You can also download the Nike+ Training App, which measures your performance while you run through a bunch of pre-set drills. It’s a little like having an interactive private trainer.
In addition to tracking your game, there are two other things you can do with the shoes. In “Showcase” mode, you can use your iPhone to record yourself practicing for 30 seconds, then watch the results to study your form. It sounded corny, but the feature turned out to be pretty fun and actually kind of helpful. You can also download the Nike+ Training App, which measures your performance while you run through a bunch of pre-set drills. It’s a little like having an interactive private trainer.
Overall, Nike+ Basketball still feels very 1.0. Even the ways in which you can crunch the few stats it tracks are very limited. You can’t, for example, see all your jumps in a month, or even review jumps from a single game on the website. Nor can you easily compare quickness from day to day. Transferring data from the shoes to your phone can be painfully slow if you played a long game. (Trust me, one thing antsy pick-up players won’t tolerate is waiting for you while your shoes download.) Presumably, Nike will be improving all of this over time.
But maybe I’ve been looking at this wrong. Basketball, when you break it down, is not an expensive sport. You don’t even need to buy a ball — they usually just show up wherever you play. Compared to golf, cycling or tennis, there isn’t a lot of fancy equipment to purchase. So maybe laying out $250 for shoes isn’t so bad. They are great shoes, they also make the game just a little more fun, if only for yourself. So yeah, maybe they are worth it.