The Next Step in Wearables: Shoes?

This Could Be a Ground-Floor Opportunity


This is just a heads-up: when it comes to wearables, shoes could be where the action’s going next.

In some ways this is where it all began: with the feet. Sports accessories to track mileage and pace go back 10 years when foot pods with accelerometers became popular with athletes. While they were big and bulky, those pods are the ancestors of the fitness-tracking devices that are hitting the market now. They interacted with watches and the activity data could be stored and uploaded for analysis. This paved the way forward.

June 2014 has been a big month for wearables, with news coming out of Apple’s and Google’s developer conferences. Apple announced HealthKit, a set of APIs for collecting data from fitness-related apps (see Event Report: Apple Worldwide Developer Conference 2014). Similarly at I/O this week, Google introduced Google Fit, the company’s own set of APIs to support sensor-equipped devices and related apps (See Google Moves into New Areas with Slew of Announcements at I/O). Adidas and Nike were listed as partners in Google’s initiative.

While wrist-worn devices and Google Glass have been receiving the most headlines, wearables are also trending in other ways: clothing with embedded sensors has been popping up (See Wearables Trends Turn to Smart Clothing). We question the practical application of sensors in items such as running pants and shirts, but footwear has become an interesting platform for fitness and patient tracking given its constant wear and easier care.

According to this article in DigiTimes, Taiwan-based contract manufacturer Compal says it sees smart shoes as a real trend with companies such as Apple, Nike and Xiaomi developing footwear-related products. Apple’s expansion into footwear had been rumoured after several patent applications related to smart shoes were uncovered. The mention of Xiaomi by the Compal executive seems a bit out of place until you remember the Chinese company makes gadgets such as popular robotic rabbits as well as smartphones.

There are certainly interesting products on the market already such as network-connected, GPS-enabled shoes intended for monitoring Alzheimer’s patients and there are pods for runners that provide advice on stride patterns. But smart shoes from or supported by brands such as Apple, Nike, and Adidas will drive the market mainstream and could have us wondering how we got by when our shoes were so dumb.

Is the market for wearables about to reach a new low? It could be time to get down to ground level. For product developers, it might be time to get moving.