Review: Apple Computer Nike + iPod Sport Kit and Sensor
Pros: A tiny pair of wireless add-ons that turn an iPod nano and a pair of shoes into a miniature personal running or power walking tracker, adding easy-to-use time, distance, and calorie-based workout options to the nano’s existing menus. Impressive male or female voice feedback automatically or manually updates you on your progress towards goals without requiring you to look at the screen, or interrupting your music; on-iPod and on-computer data viewing options able you to track your performance over time. Spectacular Nikeplus.com web design makes comparative data viewing fun; integration with iTunes makes it easy. Reliable, generally accurate accelerometer hardware, backed by a wide variety of good shoe designs.
Cons: Accessory is physically compatible only with specific pairs of one company’s sneakers, unless user manually modifies or augments other models. Entire system needs to be replaced when sensor’s battery dies, partially forgivable only because of low price. Doesn’t - as of date of review - work with iPods other than the nano. Other than shoes, company’s supporting Nike+ apparel needs a little iPod integration work.
Two months after its unexpected joint announcement by Apple Computer and sport apparel maker Nike, the Nike + iPod Sport Kit ($29) is now available in stores, along with a variety of compatible Nike+ ("Nike Plus") shoes and clothes. Designed to work only with the iPod nano - at least for now - the Sport Kit consists of a small red and white wireless 2.4 GHz sensor/transmitter, and an all-white iPod nano receiver, which together track and store data on a runner's or walker's performance for later synchronization with iTunes. In order for the Kit to work as intended by Apple and Nike, the sensor must be inserted into a pocket within any Nike+-branded shoe, a requirement that can be worked around by a user with non-Nike+ footwear, but is more easily satisfied with them.
A summary of the Nike + iPod Sport Kit should begin by acknowledging that it's one of the companies' most impressive accomplishments to date: a nearly seamless fusion of hardware, software, and footwear that will instantly appeal to any runner or power walker who likes Nike products, and even some who don't. We consider the aggregate development effort of these components to be outstanding, expanding the iPod nano's capabilities in a creative new way, providing a beautiful on-computer interface for tracking your performance, and offering it all at an appealing price. The only big issues are three: first, once the sensor's internal battery dies, you need to buy another Kit - an increasingly unpopular Apple development trend that is only excusable here because of the battery's longevity and the Kit's low price. Second, the Kit requires either a follow-on purchase of a pair of Nike+ shoes or an adaptation of your existing shoes. And third, as noted, the Kit is only compatible with the iPod nano, a limitation that appears to be without justification beyond easing Nike's manufacture of iPod-compatible clothes. Discussed further below, these issues take away only a little of the luster of an otherwise sparkling and astonishingly ambitious new iPod expansion - wireless, clothing, and sports, all at once.
Though the Sport Kit is easy to use, there's an incredible amount to cover given the changes it makes to the iPod nano and the iTunes software, as well as the new accessories and the Nikeplus.com web site it has spawned. Below, we run through all of these integrated components in turn; read through the sections that interest you, and skip those that don't.
What's in the Sport Kit Package? (Click here for details.)
Which Nike (and other) Shoes Does it Work With? (Click here for details.)
What Kinds of Sport Kit-compatible Nike+ Clothing Are Available? (Click here for details.)
Which iPods Does the Sport Kit Work With? (Click here for details.)
How Does the Sport Kit Work: The Basics (Click here for details.)
How Does the Sport Kit Work: The Nike+iPod Menus (Click here for details.)
How Does the Sport Kit Work: Technical Details (Click here for details.)
Synchronizing Your iPod nano with iTunes and Nikeplus.com (Click here for details.)
What Apple and Nike have achieved with the Nike+iPod Sport Kit is a nearly unqualified triumph: an expansion of the iPod nano into a digital sport running and walking partner, using add-on technology that works well and is easy enough for anyone to use. While we won't go so far as to claim that it will replace the need for gyms or even just their treadmills, the Kit's cool features - voice feedback, big on-screen text focused on your workout goal, PowerSongs, and Nikeplus.com - are generally so well-done for the reasonable price that you can easily look past the system's few flaws. It helps tremendously that Nike has augmented the Sport Kit with so many good shoe options, with more on the way; we hope that its other apparel options will improve as time goes on, but if they don't, we have plenty of other options.
Our only real concerns are those noted above: the accessory's battery-induced death, its incompatibility with unmodified non-Nike+ shoes, and its failure to work with iPods other than the nano. Of these, we consider the last issue to be the most serious because it is the least surmountable, and an unpleasant way to reward people who shelled out $300 or more for full-sized iPods. The Sport Kit is a good value for any current iPod owner at $29 plus the cost of a pair of shoes; at that price plus the cost of a nano, it's easier to pass up.
Despite those small blemishes, we're very impressed by what Apple and Nike have accomplished with the Nike+iPod Sport Kit - this is an amazingly well-assembled, turnkey personal exercise tracking solution, at least for runners and walkers, and highly recommended to iLounge readers. Our hope is that both companies follow up this Sport Kit with additional options for other types of athletes, as this has opened our eyes to just how much potential our favorite media player really has when properly accessorized.
[Editor's Note: In late 2008, Apple released the second-generation iPod touch, the company's first device with an integrated Nike+ receiver, eliminating the need for a Dock Connector attachment. This was followed by the June 2009 release of the iPhone 3GS, the first iPhone with integrated Nike+ receiver capability. Both of these devices can pair with a "Nike + iPod Sensor," a $19 accessory that is nothing more than the plastic wireless sensor component from the Sport Kit; these Sensors are also sold as replacements for the battery-limited Sport Kit part. The post-2006 Nike + iPod developments for touchscreen iPods, including the user interface, are highlighted in this article.]