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NEW YORK — Steve Jobs, Lance Armstrong and marathoner Paula Radcliffe provided the star wattage Tuesday when Nike and Apple trumpeted a new partnership and unveiled the first product they have developed — the Nike + iPod Sport Kit.
During a highly scripted press conference announcing the news to hundreds at Chelsea Piers, Nike chief executive officer Mark Parker explained how the kit has a wireless system that allows a sensor placed in Nike’s Air Zoom Moire to talk to Apple’s iPod nano to keep runners up to speed about their workouts. By merely touching a button on the iPod, wearers will hear an update of the distance covered, the pace and miles to go, and when energy levels droop, they can touch a button to automatically play their power song, whichever one they have selected as their most motivational.
Unassuming as ever in a pair of Levi’s and a black mock turtleneck, Jobs, Apple’s ceo, said half of the 50 million people who bought iPods last year use them while working out. He also noted that Nike sells about 200 million pairs of sneakers each year. Indubitably, the need for sensors should help Nike’s annual footwear sales, since no other company currently offers such technology. The next best thing is Adidas’ 1, $250 running sneakers equipped with a sensor and a magnet to continuously adjust cushioning while the wearer runs.
Nike approached the computer giant 18 months ago and the goal was “to make it really great, but make it really affordable.” Jobs said. “Both companies are technically driven companies, just in different ways.”
Parker, a 27-year Nike veteran, repeatedly said how the company always is looking for big ideas, singling out the brand’s Nike Air 360 footwear, Swift technology for high-performance activewear and Triax watches as previous technology.
The $29 kit will be available within the next 60 days in the U.S. through Apple’s and Nike’s freestanding and online stores, as well as at select stores. But all those workout updates won’t come cheaply. The kit is useless without what the brand is calling Nike+ footwear, a new subcategory of footwear that includes the Air Zoom Moire, which currently retails for $100, and an iPod nano, which starts at $149. Nike apparel with pockets for iPod nanos also will be sold.
There is also a Web site, Nikeplus.com, that is expected to be up and running July 13 for Sport Kit owners to download the running info from their iPods to set goals, measure progress and challenge friends in other states to designated distances. Users will be able to download iTunes and playlists from athletes such as Armstrong, whose power song is posted as The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California.” There’s also a “Leaderboard” to track the Nike wearer who has covered the most miles and run the fastest 5K and 10K.
Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, said he’s been running about 45 minutes to an hour a day in preparation for this fall’s New York City Marathon. “The typical athlete is supposed to retire and play golf, lie on the beach and hang out with their kids, but I’ve been busier than ever.”
When Parker mentioned Armstrong recently was awarded a doctorate degree from Tufts University, the champion cyclist said: “My high school teachers wouldn’t believe it.”
Asked how the marathon training is going, he hesitated and said: “It’s going OK,” adding that “trying to run religiously” after years of nonimpact cycling “is a hard transition.”
As for his marathon goal, Armstrong told Parker: “I’m not trying to run fast — no goals. Nah, I’m not goal-oriented.”
“Yeah, we believe that, too,” Parker said.
Armstrong continued, “I have no illusions of grandeur. I want to have a solid race and finish so I can say I did a marathon once.”
Radcliffe, the women’s world record holder for the marathon, said she had mixed feelings about being affiliated with something that abolishes the idea of just going out for a run and getting away from technology. “I don’t think it’s something I’m going to use the whole time for every single run. It’s good to have as a motivational tool on the tough days.”
Not to be outdone, Adidas is working with Polar to introduce clothing with integrated technology that will measure the wearer’s heart rate, and/or track distance and speed. Both devices will be rolled out at retail in October.