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Nike + Versus Adidas miCoach

Image representing Nike as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Nike+ has been around for a about 4 years now. It originated as an iPod accessory that could only be used that way, and synced with iTunes, but in 2008 Nike released the sportband, a type of watch that does the same stat-tracking as the iPod version, but without music. It’s also very easy to control as it’s on your wrist the entire time your run. I have owned a sportband and a pair of Nike Plus compatible shoes for a few months now and I think it’s a great product. The technology seems magical at times but also very easy to grasp for practically anyone.

There are occasionally a few hiccups with the sensing and sometimes your walk or run can be quite poorly measured, but this is only rarely. Overall, considering I use it at least once each day, it’s a phenomenal product and a great motivational tool.

Recently, Adidas have released a competing product which is very similar. It’s called MiCoach and it works in a considerably different way to the traditional Nike Plus. There are two main ways to get setup with miCoach. The main way is to buy a pack which includes a pacer, which controls everything and links to an MP3 player so you can hear music along with your miCoach audio. Also in the bundle is a heart rate monitor, and a stride sensor which clips on your shoe laces. You don’t need to buy special shoes like you do with Nike+ which is an advantage if you already have good running shoes.

Personally, I don’t like being forced to wear a heart rate monitor. Nike lets you do that as an option and I think Adidas should have done the same. But if it works well, people who want that extra tough should benefit from it.

The system may work well, but they’re going to find it hard to grab a foothold in the market now with Nike so far ahead by this point. Nike do have several options for their system, but they do a good job of making it really clear what equipment you need whichever method you opt for, whether it be an an iPod Nano, Touch or iPhone. The price, at £120 is a lot to ask, especially as that doesn’t include shoes. A sportband with a sensor is £40 and a pair of Nike Plus shoes are around £60, so that’s still less money. The only thing you really gain with miCoach is the heart rate monitor and voice coaching, but you also get more complex and confusing aspects to deal with.

Of these traditional methods, I recommend Nike Plus to almost anyone. I think the miCoach system needs to evolve and become less complicated and more user friendly to really compete, especially for the average consumer looking to just keep fit and not take it too seriously. Those who do can buy a heart rate sensor for Nike Plus later, but the vast majority probably won’t want or need it.

The main reason I write this post today though, is because of another method that Adidas and Nike both now offer as an alternative to dedicated equipment specifically for this purpose. MiCoach offered a free iPhone and Blackberry app when the service first launched. Instead of using all of the hardware such as the pacer and stride sensor,  it actually just uses your phone and nothing else. It makes use of the GPS function in these phones to provide a very accurate recording of your distance, speed, time and of course, being GPS, your route taken.

Nike have in the past week also released their GPS enabled app for iPhone. Although it isn’t free, Nike are the proven force in this particular sector and It’s hard to go against them at this point. However, with that said, the miCoach app is free so I would recommend trying it first to check the technology works for you in the area you live. You may decide to keep that app on cost or performance basis. It’s a personal choice and may also come down to whether or not you’re already invested in one platform or the other, most likely Nike Plus.

GPS or future implementations of it are surely the direction these services are going to take in the future. They provide excellent accuracy with no calibration unlike the current bespoke systems. There are two issues here: cost and battery life. Almost all devices that have GPS are high end smart phones and are either only available on contract for a high cost per month, or sim free for a huge initial payment. Devices like iPod Touches don’t currently have GPS and until they do, I can’t see this method replacing wearing a sensor in your shoe.

For people who do have a compatible phone already and who therefore don’t consider this an extra investment, it can’t hurt to try it out. The main issue for you will be battery life. If you go walking or running often, for long distances, or both, you will find that you will need to charge your phone probably nightly, and this will become a frustration.

Until battery lives in our phones increase considerably, or we gain access to GPS in devices like the iPod Touch, I think these types of solutions will still take a back seat to the original sensor based technology. Then again, at only $2 or £1.19 in the app store, for people who are casual runners who want the convenience of just putting their phone in their pocket and going, this may prove very popular for them. If they don’t run often or very far, this may prove indispensable.

I just worry that maybe Adidas and Nike have shot themselves in the foot by offering this for so cheap (free in adidas’ case) and potentially eliminating the need for equipment they probably make a considerable profit on. Not to mention Nike Plus shoes which must be a big earner for the company. I suppose they must have thought it through and considered it a minority market for the time being, but we will see in time how well this new GPS based technology takes off in user adoption.

In conclusion, if you’re someone who wants to get into some casual running with a fairly simple and inexpensive product, I would recommend Nike Plus as it’s been great for me. If you have a compatible iPod Already you may want to buy either a sports kit (for nano) or a sensor only (newer touch). If you don’t, then grab a sportband bundle. You’ll also need compatible shoes.

If you own an iPhone with GPS then there’s no harm in downloading one or both apps to try them out and see how they work for you. Finally, if you’re a serious runner, then the Adidas pacer may be what you’re looking for, but Nike also now offer a heart rate monitor of couse.

In the end, there are a lot of different options. One of them will be right for you and whichever one you pick will certainly help you get fitter and more motivated so you can’t lose in that respect.