It was obvious back in 2005 that Apple and Nike were mutually interested in developing a business relationship. Apple’s COO Tim Cook joined Nike’s board of directors, shortly after which the company released an armband specific to the iPod nano. Only months later, in May, 2006, the companies jointly announced the $29 Nike + iPod Sport Kit, a wireless system that let an iPod nano track a runner’s performance, save the statistics, then upload them to the Internet for comparison with other runners. No one was expecting the companies to release a product like that, and between the reasonable price and the novelty of the system, sales of the Sport Kit were immediately extremely robust.
In the more than two years since the Nike + iPod system debuted, three different iPod nanos have been discontinued and replaced, Nike has released new Nike+ accessories, and Apple has updated the Nike+ interface for both the iPod nano and the second-generation iPod touch. We wanted to take a look at how the family has evolved over time from device to device, including pictures and features.
The Concept and Main Menu
Apple added the Nike + iPod menu to the first-generation iPod nano only months before it was discontinued and replaced; both iTunes 6.0.5 and a special software update were needed to add the accessory support to the device. With the Nike + iPod Sport Kit attached, an updated iPod nano paired a bottom-mounted Receiver with a shoe-mounted Sensor to record foot strides, measuring distance, calories burned, and time run during a workout. Suddenly, the nano was able not only to talk and provide users with in-earphone voice prompts about their workout progress, but it could overlap those prompts over music, fading in and out, and activate a special “PowerSong” at any point during a run.
Apple kept the Nike + iPod menu the exact same from the first- to the second-generation iPod nano, as shown above. You could choose from several different workout options, adjust settings for the device, or see your history of runs. Everything was pretty plain—black text on white.
The third-generation nano had the same main menu options, but with a nicer red sidebar that matched Nike’s packaging for the Sport Kit.
Big changes started with the fourth-generation nano and second-generation iPod touch—the first iPod to have a built-in Nike+ receiver. For the iPod nano, Apple streamlined the menu, reducing the various types of workout choices to a sub-menu called New Workout. Once you created a workout you liked, it was added to the main screen so you could repeat it at any time. The iPod touch menu had a much nicer-looking interface, but made the options a bit messier. Like the other iPods, you could choose from different types of workouts, but here, Apple added Calibration to the main screen, and tabs at the bottom for saved workouts and history. Settings needed to be accessed in a different part of the iPod’s interface.
The Workout Screen
The evolution from first- and second-generation interface to third-generation is shown here; again, Apple really glossed up the look of the third-generation version by comparison with its predecessor, adding reflective numbers to the center of the screen, and incorporating Nike’s black and red color scheme directly into the display.
New to the fourth-generation iPod nano was its ability to flip this screen’s orientation from horizontal to vertical, depending on your preference.
The iPod touch version seems as if it was supposed to have the same ability, but instead only displays in horizontal orientation when the screen has been turned off and then unlocked. It’s unclear whether this is a bug, but it seems to be; thus, this vertical display, complete with on-screen buttons for track adjustment and play/pause, is used most of the time.
Interestingly, the vertical display can not only show a bar for progress through your workout, but a second bar to show you how much extra you’ve gone past your original goal; the initial green bar is overlapped by a darker green bar as you make your way through a second time.
Not much changed besides looks from the first- and second-generation nano’s Workout Summary screen to the third; they both stayed consistent with their interfaces.
But in the fourth-generation nano, your musical preference was also displayed; the iPod touch shows a little extra information, such as calorie burning, even if that wasn’t the purpose of your workout.
Settings in the first- and second-generation nanos were simple. You could pick a PowerSong to activate when you needed a burst of energy, pick between male and female spoken feedback, pick between mile or kilometer distance measurement, set your weight for stride calculation purposes, and pair the Sensor with the receiver.
The third-generation interface added a new option: Remote. If you purchased a Nike Amp+ remote control watch, you could pair it with the nano, then change tracks and volume directly from your wrist as you were running—you could also activate your PowerSong, and see the time on Amp+‘s face.
On the fourth-generation iPod nano, another option—Screen Orientation—was added. This let you pick how the Workout screen would display while you were running.
The iPod touch hid its Nike + iPod settings within a separate Settings application. Here, you could turn the Nike + iPod icon on or off—a feature we’d love to see for other icons—as well as adjust the spoken feedback, distance measurement, weight, sensor pairing, and screen orientation. Missing in action: Nike+ remote support.
The Nike Amp+ remote control is one of the coolest iPod accessories we’ve yet seen. Although the price is a bit high and the design of the remote isn’t for everyone, the look is really eye-catching, and its ability to serve as both a watch and a wireless control system for the nano is great.
Both the third- and fourth-generation iPod nanos let you link or unlink the Remote with a screen called Remote, accessed from the settings menu.
Other Accessories and Expansion
Nike has released numerous shoes, clothes, and armbands for Nike+ workout fans. We’ve focused on the armbands—first-generation, second-generation, third-generation—but there have also been other items, like backpacks, a hatphones cap, and a variety of bracelet-style watches that were teased and then ultimately not all released. Nike has also been exploring other types of iPod workout systems beyond just running, and has expanded the Nike+ system’s compatibility to certain gym equipment, as well. Meanwhile, companies such as Marware have developed inexpensive pouch-style alternatives to buying Nike shoes, and Apple has reportedly been looking to patent improvements to the system.
Despite all of those additional options and developments, it’s amazing that the Nike + iPod system hasn’t changed much over the years—it is remarkably one of very few accessories to have not gone through a hardware redesign in order to remain compatible with Apple’s ever-changing series of iPod nanos. As such, the same Sensors and Receivers people were buying two years ago can still work with today’s nanos, and you can use an old Sensor with the newest iPod touch. If only every other iPod accessory was useful for this long!
The Nike + iPod Sport Kit remains available for $29. iPod touch second-generation users can now get the Sensor portion alone for $19 from Nike or Apple.