Straight from the brilliant minds at Nike and Apple, the Nike+iPod Sport Kit is the get-off-your-duff gadget of the decade; a product that seamlessly unites the near-universal obsession over health with consumer technology and the exploding world of digital audio entertainment. Nike and Apple have put forth a simple and inexpensive gadget that has the potential to inspire the listless, out-of-shape masses to break free from their keyboards and remotes and to engage in healthy physical exercise. The Nike+iPod Sport Kit is also a great tool for already-active runners, joggers and walkers who want to add some high-tech game to their exercise regimen.
The Nike+iPod Sport Kit is well designed. The shoe-based transmitter is almost exactly the same width and length as a Secure Digital (SD) card, though thicker by 400%. The iPod-based receiver is even smaller and matches the white iPod nano. Unfortunately, those who own a black iPod nano will have to put up with mismatched colors.
As for the design of the receiver, its diminutive size and dock connector make it easy to carry in a pocket, wallet or any small space; however I see two glaring problems. First, the receiver is so small, it can be easily misplaced. Second and perhaps most important, the receiver plugs into the dock connector and therefore juts out of the bottom of the iPod nano where it can easily be bent or subjected to accidental damage. The parts are not tough – no one intended them to be military grade – and a bent receiver could force a user to buy a new Sport kit and/or a new iPod nano. Given this fact, be sure to use an iPod nano arm-band, a Nike outfit with specially-designed iPod nano pockets, or some other form of solid protection for the iPod and receiver.
Installing the shoe transmitter is simple. Hold the left shoe steady and lift the insole out. Just under the instep of the shoe, a small, plastic-girded hole has been placed in the sole. Slip the transmitter into that hole; replace the insole and the Nike shoe is ready to communicate with the iPod nano.
Connect your iPod nano to your computer to ensure it is fully charged. Create a playlist of songs from your existing library, or go to the iTunes Music Store to get a Nike-specific playlist. The Nike-specific playlists have great energy-building songs with additional ‘coaching’ tracks to guide you along your exercise program.
Once the iPod is prepped with playlists, disconnect it from your computer and attach the Nike+iPod receiver to the dock connector at the bottom of the iPod nano. Turn on the iPod nano and select the “Nike+iPod” menu on the main screen. From this screen, select the type of workout you want to engage in. I typically use the Distance option, which lets me select the exact distance I would like to run, as opposed to regulating my workout by Calories, Time or the non-specific Basic setting.
Calibration is Critical
When I first got the Nike+iPod Sport Kit installed, I was concerned about the device being forced-generic or one-stride-fits-all with regard to its measurement of strides and tracking of distances run. I was pleased to see two personal “Calibration” options – one for your walking pace, and one for your personal running pace.
Because I am a super geek, I went down to my local Lowe’s hardware store and bought a “Lufkin Executive Walking Wheel”, a device that contractors use to measure long linear distances when tape measures will not do. The walking wheel I purchased can measure up to 9,999 feet (well over 1 mile) and is accurate to the very inch.
I found a long, even stretch of road near my home that I felt comfortable using as my exercise route. With the zero-inch starting line marked in orange road paint, I used the walking wheel to measure out an exact 1-mile track. To be even geekier and excruciatingly precise, I made markings for each 1/10 mile (or 528 foot) section of road.
Prior to completing the calibration, the Nike+iPod kit registered the 1 mile distance as .97 miles. That’s about 158 feet off-target. I knew that wouldn’t do. As soon as I ended the walking calibration sequence, the iPod nano interface indicated that the generic .97 mile was now exactly 1 mile for me. Fantastic!
Once the walking calibration was done, my return trip down the painted road was designated as the running calibration. I eventually made the run home – face flushed, head pounding, lungs burning like I’d inhaled napalm. The running calibration registered .94 miles – about 317 feet short of accurate. Again, once I told the iPod nano that I’d completed an accurate mile, it acknowledged me and thus my running calibration was complete.
After the calibrations were done, my next venture out was later that evening with my wife. We walked from the starting line to the half-mile marker. The Nike+iPod was accurate to the inch on the 7/10 mile marker, but was off by about 8 feet on the half-mile mark. That’s pretty good – accurate to 1/660 of a mile.
My next test was an early morning half-mile run followed by a half-mile walk. The running portion registered at .51 miles – this time a little over the mark. Still, the run was accurate to 1/220 of a mile. The return walk was perfectly accurate.
When reviewing my walks and runs, I noticed that the overall time for each session varied from a few seconds to a couple minutes. Based on how much energy I had at a particular time of day, my pace increased or decreased – even the length of my stride varied – which rightfully effected the overall reading provided by the Nike+iPod transmitter. I found that once the transmitter is properly calibrated, it will remain accurate to your original pace and stride – at least until its battery fails a year or so later. Any other inaccuracy experienced is likely due to analog human error.
In short, do not use the Nike+iPod Sport Kit without properly calibrating it. Your stats will most likely never be accurate. If you can’t find a Walking Wheel (or if you feel too geeky rolling the Walking Wheel down the road in plain view of the public), find a YMCA, YWCA, a public high school or college with a professional running track. Those tracks are typically 400 meters, or .248 miles not an even conversion, but four laps and a brief walk-off would give you a one mile workout.
Prior to connecting the iPod nano to your computer, it is important to set up a user account at nikeplus.com. Setting up a nikeplus.com account is easy and only takes a few short minutes. Once your nikeplus.com account is set up, configure iTunes with your nikeplus.com account info (your chosen email address and password). Select whether iTunes will automatically update nikeplus.com with your exercise stats or whether you’d like to manually approve the data transfer each time.
After completing an exercise regimen, connect the iPod to your computer. In a matter of seconds the iPod transfers the exercise stats to iTunes, which in turn transmits the data to your nikeplus.com account. Log into nikeplus.com to view each run/walk session individually or in a graph series for comparison. You can even set short and long term goals for distances run, overall time spent running or walking, calories burned, etc. The graphical interface and goal setting features make the nikeplus.com experience quite entertaining and meaningful.
Nike+ and Apple iPod
According to all marketing efforts, the Nike+iPod Sport Kit requires the iPod nano and special Nike shoes with the Sport Kit insert slot. While the integration is certainly flawless, it is not necessary to use the Nike shoes. On the very day the Nike+iPod Sport Kit was released, rumors of it working in normal shoes hit the internet. Pictures popped up on several Mac-related websites showing proof of the nondiscriminatory nature of the Sport Kit.
I spoke with a Nike rep to see if the reports were true. I was cautioned that the Nike shoes were specifically designed to provide accurate results and that other shoes could not be relied upon. Being fond of certain types of civil disobedience (especially those that involve gadgetry and graphs), I decided to test that theory on my own.
After having performed the calibration tests with the Nike shoes, prepared two tests with non-Nike branded shoes. For my first test, I placed the Nike+iPod transmitter under the laces of my dusty old New Balance running shoes. I hit my custom-painted road to see how the New Balance shoes would rate. On a half-mile run, the Nike+iPod transmitter reported .51 miles.
For my second test, I placed the Nike+iPod transmitter in a self-cut hole in the insole of my New Balance running shoes. The transmitter fit perfectly, though my Xacto knife hole was nowhere near as professional looking as the Nike-built housing in the Nike shoes. On my half-mile walk back, the distance read-out on the iPod nano showed exactly .50 miles, however I reached the painted half-mile mark about 4 paces after the iPod nano said I’d attained my target distance. This is a negligible margin of error.
To summarize the results of my Nike+iPod Sport Kit hack, the New Balance running test was accurate to 1/220 of a mile, just as accurate as the Nike shoes. My New Balance walking test was even more accurate, giving only an error margin of 1/440 of a mile. Of course, neither the Nike nor New Balance shoes are “more accurate” than the other. All the intelligent work is done between the Nike+iPod transmitter and receiver. Inconsistencies are likely to be changes in the user’s pace and stride.
Nike+iPod enabled shoes are available in men’s sizes up to 15 and women’s sizes up to 12. For runners and walkers who, like my brother, have shoe sizes of 16 and beyond, use your own shoes. You’re only $29 and an iPod nano away from an exciting new exercise regimen!
Nike and Apple have created an absolutely fantastic product. In fact, they’ve done more than that – they’ve created a means to an exercise revolution. The Nike+iPod Sport Kit is not a diet fad, it’s not a chemical-laced sports drink that’ll only drag you down or slowly melt your brain – it’s a technological means to improving one’s physical self in a fun, invigorating, self-reliant and environmentally sustainable manner.
After experiencing the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, I can only imagine (and hope) that Apple will team with Nike and/or other sport-centric companies to design offshoots of the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, like the “Bike+iPod Road Kit” for cyclists. This would be brilliant! I would certainly buy a bicycle for the occasion.
- Exciting use of technology for exercise
- Surprisingly accurate measurements
- Can be used in nearly any running shoe
- Only available in white
- Total setup is somewhat spendy