Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It’s called Positioning, not Spying


When Nike and Apple announced the Nike + iPod partnership I thought, "Man! That's brilliant!" My second impression was, "Dude! That's cheap!" After all, it was only $29 for the sport kit and I already had the shoes and the iPod.

The technical term for that is wearable computing. That is computer devices that are worn in clothing and I'm proud to say that my Alma Matter, Carnegie Mellon University, is a leader in that space. In the Nike + Apple case, a Bluetooth transmitter located in the sole of the shoe would send information to the iPod. This in turn, when synchronized with the home computer, sends the information to an Apple + Nike website for exercise tracking. The concept is simple and seems harmless.

In my opinion, the media killed that product. Newscaster all over the world claimed that you could keep track of people by sampling the Bluetooth signal sent by the shoe. A college student demonstrated it by hanging Bluetooth scanners around his university campus while he was keeping track of his girlfriend as she run.

The key here is that having the ability to track somebody does not necessarily make it a bad product. What about the people that wants to willingly be tracked? Say military personnel in Iraq, Alzheimer patients, Autistic children, or outdoor adventurers. For those, there are wonderful products coming out. A terrific example is ID Conex.

The direct benefit is that you can quickly locate a human being when in trouble, anywhere in the world. Thru a beacon type of signal, the GPS capable shoe can forward the exact coordinates of the person to ID Conex and plot it in a map. Of course, privacy is important, so ID Conex offers two modes of operation: One where ID Conex will receive geographical information upon request of the wearer - say by pressing a button – and another one where the shoe is constantly uploading its coordinates to the server. It is very promising for the military, healthcare, sports, and adventure markets.

Finally, there are two main concerns about such product. First of all, what is the opportunity cost of having such ability in your shoes? ID Conex and the shoe manufacturers think that it is around $300. I personally think that it is too high still. It should be closer to $200 instead. And last but not least, how good of a shoe is it? Notice that, contrary to the Nike + Apple product, this is not an addition to any regular shoe. The computer is embedded into the shoe. Is that going to affect the comfort and quality of the shoe? Say for example, that it may eventually compete in the sports market segment with Apple and Nike. Then it better be a good running shoe, because it is hard to beat Nike in that space.

1 comment:

WebbieGrrl Writer said...

Alas, you had me right up until you sang the praises of Nike <<-- sez she of the "anything BUT Nike" school. Not sure why I don't like them but there's something buried in my childhood against Nikes. I love the concept here, though. Ties right in with amazingly successful sites like StepWhere and Bikely