Author(s): George Jijiashvili
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Adidas and Nike made early attempts at implementing smart sensors in footwear. Over the years, these companies released numerous products including the Adidas Adizero F50 and Nike Lunar TR-1+, but by mid-2010s they were all quietly discontinued and these projects were abandoned.
In my view, these products failed for three main reasons: high prices, a poor user experience and low added value. These smart shoes featured detachable smart modules, which a user had to regularly remove to charge them or to sync data. But smartphone usage and wireless connectivity weren't as widespread then as they are now, and smart shoes usually required proprietary USB connectors to transfer the data. Furthermore, their companion iOS apps and PC software weren't very sophisticated, only able to quantify basic metrics such as steps, speed and distance travelled, without providing deeper analysis or actionable suggestions. As a result, these shoes didn't gain broad appeal beyond sports enthusiasts and didn't offer existing customers a strong enough incentive to keep wearing them.
Adidas Adizero F50 and Nike Lunar TR-1+ smart shoes
Despite these early missteps, over the past two years smart footwear has seen a resurgence, largely boosted by greater consumer awareness of wearables. Perhaps the most important announcement came from Under Armour at CES 2016, where it unveiled the UA SpeedForm Gemini 2 RE, its first pair of smart shoes, reasonably priced at $150. Thanks to recent advancements in sensor and Bluetooth technology, the company was able to permanently embed smart modules inside the soles of the shoes. Under Armour promises that the product's battery will outlast the lifetime of the shoes (up to 415 miles of running), meaning that users don't ever have to charge them.
The potential of this wearables segment is clear. According to our latest global wearables forecast, 2016 saw an important milestone for smart sports shoes, with more than 1 million pairs being sold in China (see CCS Insight Forecast Reveals Steady Growth in Smartwatch Market). The most successful product in this category was the $30 Li Ning Smart shoes, which sync with Xiaomi's fitness app.
UA SpeedForm Gemini 2 RE and Li Ning Smart shoes
Although this new generation of connected shoes offers a superior user experience at reasonable prices, I believe smart footwear, and smart clothing, are still far from gaining wider appeal beyond sports and technology enthusiasts. I'd also argue that products that only track basic metrics are now redundant, as consumers interested in measuring their activity are likely to already own a fitness tracker or a smartwatch that offers this functionality.
Manufacturers have acknowledged this and are now working on delivering features that are difficult or impossible to replicate on wrist-worn wearables. For example, Under Armour's latest smart shoes, such as the UA SpeedForm Velociti RE, can measure a wearer's "activity readiness" through jump tests, and the concept shoes by Vivobarefoot in collaboration with Sensoria offer coaching for improving the wearer's running technique.
UA SpeedForm Velociti RE and Vivobarefoot connected shoes
I believe that we'll continue to see steady growth of this wearables category, as the cost of including smart modules in shoes falls. Another important driver will be the incentive for shoe makers to embrace this technology. Although connected sports shoes are intended for tracking and improving a user's activity and performance, they also represent a growing opportunity for companies. The ability to monitor usage of smart footwear, assess when they're worn out and to prompt customers to invest in a new pair offers companies a chance to interact with users and to boost shoe sales.