Are you in the market for a smart shoe? No, not the leather type that goes well with a tailored suit. Rather, the running kind, embedded with a smart chip with the capability to track your movement and performance and relay that back to you.
If so, you’re in luck. Chinese mobile phone powerhouse Xiaomi announced that it is partnering with Li-Ning, an athletics and footwear company whose (temporarily) successful high-profile ambush marketing and subsequent multi-million dollar sponsorships during the 2008 Olympics did nothing to quell the steady but gradual loss in sales and demand in recent years.
The “smart sneakers” will combine embedded smart chips developed by Xiaomi with Li-Ning’s experience in sportswear to create a shoe capable of tracking exercise statistics and progress to an app on the users smartphone. Details on exactly what information the app will collect is still largely undetermined, although general performance improvement and health monitoring will surely direct app function.
Why the world’s 3rd largest smartphone distributor would want to team up with a name that has suffered a net loss for the third consecutive year is an interesting question. A large part of Li-Ning’s failure since 2008 has to do with the fact that the company is wholly China based. Li-Ning undoubtedly hopes that a 2012 apparel deal with NBA Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade will aid its growth into a Western market, which in turn would open up further possibilities for partner Xiaomi (who already have a foothold in the U.S. through their backing of California-based fitness monitoring company Misfit Wearables).
Furthermore, the lack of a smart shoe in the current market could make this product a revolutionary one. Although there are devices connected to apps designed to track fitness activity (Nike’s Jawbone Up and FuelBand, its Apple-partnered sneaker sensor, as well as a wide variety of Fitbits wristbands), none of these options offer both an easy and affordable integration between an actual shoe and an app, a lack that this collaboration hopes to affordably fix — although just how affordable is yet to be announced. Current smart sneakers on the market include the MediaTek 361 sneaker for children whose sole (ha!) purpose lies in tracking whereabouts via GPS as well as the GPS shoe, developed largely to locate adults suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The variables concerning the result of this partnership make it difficult to predict the success of the “smart shoe”. We are told that the product will be affordable and easy to use, but details are yet to be announced. It is however nice to see a micro-chipped sneaker targeted at the millions of people who identify with an age group somewhere between child and senior.