Commentary

Smart shoes, anyone?

I was feeling wistful over not being able to attend this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. But I rubbed my hands with glee when I heard what New Balance and Under Armour (UA) announced from the world's biggest consumer technology show.

At the just-concluded CES 2016, UA announced its SpeedForm Gemini 2 Record Equipped running shoe, as part of its HealthBox fitness tracking system. This shoe tracks and stores fitness data, such as distance, workout duration and splits, without the need for another device.

Rival New Balance announced a newly created Digital Sport division, with a smartwatch being its first product. What's more exciting is that the division will work on "embedded technology, such as intelligent sensors integrated into New Balance footwear", the company said.

UA and New Balance were not the only ones launching smart shoes at CES 2016. Altra, based in Utah, showed its Altra IQ, a pair of smart running shoes that is supposed to act as your personal stride coach to give you real-time feedback during your run. It has a thin multi-sensor along its midsole to track a range of statistics, such as foot strike zone and ground contact time.

French tech firm Zhor-Tech showed its Digitsole Smartshoe 01. Slip on a pair of these futuristic-looking shoes and you can use an app to track your steps, calories burned and even warm your feet.Plus, it can automatically tighten itself around your ankle. Sweet.

So you might ask why do you need smart shoes when there are so many fitness devices and smartphone apps out there that can track every step you take?

The answer is that with chips embedded in your shoes, the tracking of steps becomes more accurate.

I'll admit it: To hit my daily step goal, I sometimes cheat by simply swinging my arms with my fitness tracker on my wrist. I cannot do that with smart shoes.

But, more importantly, it means one fewer device to wear on my wrist when I go for a run.

Smart shoes are not entirely new. Nike and Adidas used to sell sensors that you could put into their shoes for the same purpose. And Nike was recently granted a patent for a shoe with an embedded device that transmits data to a mobile device. Sounds like a smart shoe to me.

Sports apparel brands must have realised it is better for them to sell smart shoes than let tech companies dominate the ever-increasing fitness-conscious market with their fitness trackers.

Last year turned out to be the year of the smartwatch. Could this year be the year of the smart shoe?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'Smart shoes, anyone?'. Print Edition | Subscribe