NEW YORK — The battle for the connected footwear market continues to heat up.
Just one week after Nike unveiled its Adapt BB basketball sneaker, Under Armour upped the ante with the newest iteration of its HOVR collection.
The Nike shoe uses an app that “speaks” to the shoe and allows the wearer to make adjustments to the fit and color. Under Armour’s connected app doesn’t allow for modifications to the shoes, but offers coaching advice instead. Also, the Nike footwear needs to be charged while the UA collection connection will last for the life of the shoe.
Under Armour introduced its first connected footwear in 2015 and last year began offering the HOVR collection, which provided not only premium cushioning materials developed with Dow Chemical, and a chip embedded into the shoe that connected to its MapMyRun mobile app.
In its earlier form, the chip technology was offered in two models only and registered distance and pace, but now it also gathers information on cadence and stride length. By using that data, said Ben McAllister, director of connected fitness for Under Armour, the company is now able to create “custom coaching experiences” for runners that are intended to optimize their form and cut down on the risk for injury.
The personalized gait analysis is provided free of charge, he said.
The way it works, he explained, is that once the wearer runs one mile, the shoe calculates the stride length and cadence and at the end, provides a summary showing how their form compares to the ideal form based on their gender, height, weight and age.
The shoes also work even if the wearer is not carrying a phone. Instead, the data is stored and uploaded once the shoe and app are once again in close proximity.
McAllister said the company has quietly been testing the improved functionality for the past several months and found that those who used it ran 75 percent more, up from three times a week to nearly five. And those who took advantage of the coaching advice actually increased their pace by 5 percent within five weeks.
The HOVR launched last year with two models: the Sonic and the Phantom, which are cushioned trainers, but on Feb. 1, three more models will arrive: the Infinite, Velociti and Guardian, which are geared to more hard-core runners and will be sold at run specialty retailers. Prices will range from $100 for the Sonic to $120 for the Guardian, Velociti and Infinite, and cap out with $140 for the Phantom.
Nike’s Adapt connected shoes, in contrast, will retail for $350 when they debut on Feb. 14.
Additionally, Under Armour will now offer the chip technology beyond the initial launch markets of North America and China to all markets where it does business.
In other Under Armour news, the company said it was also looking outside the earth for its next performance product offering.
Under Armour’s founder and chief executive officer Kevin Plank joined Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson on “CBS This Morning” on Thursday to announce their plan to create a collection for commercial space flight that Branson said he expects to be utilized later this year.
As Virgin Galactic’s “technical spacewear partner,” Under Armour will create custom space suits and footwear for the company’s passengers and pilots as well as uniforms for Virgin Galactic’s team at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company will also use its athletic performance team to design programs for astronaut physical preparation and recovery.
Space is a hot topic this year since 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Ralph Lauren is introducing a special NASA-inspired self-heating jacket and Nick Graham is offering space-themed furnishings.
For Under Armour, the publicity created by partnering with Branson helps take some of the focus off its ongoing reinvention. On Wednesday, it named Tchernavia Rocker to the newly created position of chief people and culture officer to help reshape its workplace culture. Last year, the news broke that some employees, including Plank, had gone to strip clubs and charged the visits to their corporate cards — a practice that was subsequently banned.
In addition, the company’s financials, while improving, are still a work in progress. In December, during an analyst meeting, Under Armour said its operating loss is now expected to be about $40 million to $55 million this year versus the previously expected $50 million to $55 million. And revenue isn’t projected to return to a low-double-digit growth rate until 2023.