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.


Apple Event Thoughts: Intro and iPod Shuffle

I’ve been speculating a lot leading up to yesterday’s event where Apple announced most of the things we thought they would do. I just want to go over what I predicted and see what happened and what didn’t, and what that means for the new products.

iPod Shuffle

I made some rather outlandish Shuffle predictions, including turning the device into a necklace type product. In the end, it was a pretty simple refresh. They responded to customer complains over the lack of buttons on the last version, and brought them back accordingly. Where the 2nd gen shuffle had a gap to the side of where the buttons were positioned, this one has seemingly no wasted space. The buttons are also 18% bigger to make them as easy as possible to press. Most importantly, they’ve decided to scrap the 4gb version and focused on having a lower capacity, and more importantly, lower priced player designed to have music swapped around every time you sync.

£39 isn’t as cheap as I would have hoped, but it’s still good and it’s almost . One of the problems with last year’s shuffle was that because the device had no buttons on the device itself to control playback, you were restricted to using the pretty poor default headphones unless you bought a special adapter but that wasn’t ideal. Now, the controls are all on the device itself, including a special new button to control the voice over feature, leaving you free to use any headphones you like, which is nice.

I could actually see myself getting a shuffle at some point as a dedicated podcast or audiobook player, or maybe just to load up a few favourite tracks to listen to when I’m out. It’s so light and simple to use that it’s perfect for wearing while jogging. I don’t know if I trust the clip to keep it securely fitted to clothing and I would probably opt for putting it in a pocket instead.

Another reason why it’s ideal for going out is because I’ve taken my 1st gen iPod Touch out in my pocket many times, practically daily and it is a bit bulky considering I often have my pockets loaded up with my phone, keys, wallet and a pedometer sometimes as well. Not only would using a shuffle save me pocket space and weight but it would also keep my new touch from getting it’s screen slightly scratched as my current one has been.

My brother won a 2nd gen shuffle on a crane game at an amusement park a couple of years ago, and it’s great. It’s 1gb which is ideal especially if I’m only going to have one piece of audio on it at a time. The clip is a disaster though, it got bent badly and won’t go back to it’s original shape. It still clips but not well. The worst part is that the charging dock is designed so that if the device is bent at all, it won’t fit unless you really force it. They fixed this in the more recent models by using simply a cable instead of a dock. I’m glad they’ve solved this problem now as the clips are very easily ruined. I personally would have preferred the clip to be optional, similar to the old iPod Mini which had a plastic clip that you could fit when you required it.

Overall I do like the new shuffle and like the product line in general as I feel it still fills a niche in the market, especially as the price lowers.


iPod Nano 6th Gen & Shuffle 4th Gen Wishlist

The current, outgoing lineup. Image via Wikipedia
The current, outgoing lineup. Image via Wikipedia

I’ve recently talked about my wants for the next generations of iPod Touch and Apple TV which we could see next Wednesday. The Apple TV is not necessarily a certainty for the show but it will come sometime soon. They just might focus on iPods only for the time being.

I now want to go over what I hope the next generations of Nano and Shuffle will bring to the table. These aren’t products that I would typically buy these days due to the iPod Touch doing so much more, but they are fun to speculate about.

iPod Nano 6th Gen

  1. Touch screen and no click wheel – The leaked shots of cases for a supposed new, smaller and square nano combined with the leak earlier this year or a 1.7 inch touch screen would indicate that Apple are going in a radically different direction with the nano this time around. Personally I find the click wheel fiddly on my old 2nd gen nano and I think it’s time they got rid of it, iconic or not. They still have the classic to fly the click wheel flag.
  2. Cut down version of iOS – because the device will be so small, they can’t use the regular iOS interface. They’ll have to cut it down further to fit on this device but it will save space and look great.
  3. Camera – I hope the camera stays part of the package although it is weird to envision one on a device so small as it could be difficult to hold. Still, I hope they do keep it and up the resolution as well as allow stills to be taken.
  4. Radio – Hopefully the radio also stays as this is a feature I personally would find very useful.

iPod Shuffle 4th Gen

  1. New form factor – The only way I could see the shuffle getting any smaller would be if they incorporated it into a necklace or into the headphones themselves. Personally I’d prefer to be able to use my own headphones. You could do a wearable necklace shuffle with the controls built into the the strap somehow. You could then have a cable tidy solution to stop the headphone cable hanging down and bouncing everywhere as well. However, they will probably just play it fairly safe, or just remove the product entirely and replace it with the new, smaller nano.
  2. Voice control – The nano already has voice over support. iPod Touches come with a mic in the headphone control and this feature would make sense on a device like the shuffle which obviously doesn’t have a screen and is designed to be used during exercise.

The event is next Wednesday at 6.00 pm UK time. It’ll be interesting to see if any of this and all of the other rumours end up coming true. I’m excited to find out.


Taking the Blog a new direction

I think I got to the point a while back where I didn’t want to just talk about apple stuff anymore and I’ve hardly mentioned anything Apple related for a while, including the iphone and numerous hardware updates.

I will quickly say though that the iPhone is great but needs improvement, the iPod touch I have and think its amazing, and the new MacBook Air and subsequent MacBook updates are all great, except the MacBook got no multi-touch love which is predictable really.

On the other hand though each update seems to be less and less exciting and I just can’t see a reason for me to update my computer, which is a good thing really in terms of saving money, but its also brought on by my own change in attitude to having a powerful computer to just wanting a laptop that can do what I need, and as far as that goes, this one is going to be fine for a long while to come. Especially when you consider how slowly processor speeds and ram seem to be growing. The only thing that is exciting right now is that flash memory is getting cheaper so SSD drives are going to be commonplace and larger in the next year or two which will be nice.

Moving away from the Apple focus is what this post is about though and so after this Apple catch-up I’m going to talk about whatever comes to mind, from any company, plus whatever else is going on I want to write about.