So I guess exploding smartphones and hoverboards weren’t enough for you people.
This week Nike announced the pre-sale of its latest self-tightening sneaker — the Adapt BB. (The BB, of course, stands for “basketball,” and Jayson Tatum is giving them a test run at Wednesday’s Boston Celtics game.)
These BBs look like any other performance shoe, with a mesh upper and a thick rubber sole where, nestled under the arch of your foot, lives Nike’s innovative “lace engine” — though they are, in fact, laceless. The Bluetooth-powered tightening mechanism can be controlled via smartphone app and charges on a wireless mat, juicing the shoe enough to last 10 to 14 days.
They are hyped as “adaptive,” meaning the shoes can remember your comfortable fit setting, allow you to manage preset tightness levels, and will automatically adjust if your feet suddenly become swollen, say, during a vigorous workout. The tightening function uses a single cable snaked throughout the shoe, threaded through the lace engine. A tech reporter at The Verge who gave them a spin described the tightening feeling as a “toy claw machine, but the claw is flipped upside down,” like a “robot [is] hugging” your feet. (So the robots want my job and my feet now?)
“It’s a natural extension of your body,” Eric Avar, VP and creative director at Nike Innovation, tells The Verge.
It’s not creepy.
If these foot-hugging robots on your feet weren’t animate enough, they also light up while adjusting fit, and chime chords E flat major and E flat C depending on the battery level.
This is not the fitness brand’s first foray into high-tech footwear. In 2016, Nike debuted the limited-edition HyperAdapt 1.0., a bulkier version of the Adapt BB with actual laces, and sold for a cool $720. Later that year, they released 89 pairs of Mags, with similar technology to the HyperAdapt 1.0 but designed to resemble the sneakers from “Back to the Future II” that inspired all of this.
With great technology comes great responsibility … to charge and update constantly. As frequently as you’re bugged to update the ever-growing list of devices in your home — computers, phones, adaptive thermostats, smart light bulbs, talking refrigerators — Nike hopes you’ll be happy to do the same for your footwear. One thing these “smart” shoes can’t do is track steps or physiological activity, even though all of the technology is there to be able to do it.
“We look at things like step counting and activity tracking as easy things to add around that, but it’s not necessarily the reason you would go out and buy the shoe,” says Jordan Rice, senior director in Smart Systems Engineering at Nike.
In other words, “Why implement that technology now when we know consumers will buy them anyway without it?” Sounds like they’re taking a page out of Apple’s book.
Still, Nike assures that the Adapt BBs are safe, promising no feet will go aflame thanks to rigorous testing to ensure they won’t be compromised under the weight of a typical male pro basketball player. They are also supposedly waterproof. If anything should go wrong, Nike will offer repairs and replacements.
The shoe will go on sale officially in February for $350, but only in men’s sizes seven to 15, making the smallest available size in women’s an 8.5. Nike says it’s working on a way to shrink the technology to fit smaller shoes.
Nike is touting the Adapt BB as the prototype for all shoes of the future, but one has to wonder why we need this technology in this application right now. How many of us exist at the size and activity level of a professional athlete? While there could be potentially life-altering benefits to this technology, especially for those who suffer poor circulation or swollen feet due to diabetes or other related diseases, the current shoe model is reportedly somewhat narrow — making them even less accommodating. And they won’t be doing much for the aging population with bad backs and knees.
After all, you still have to bend over to put on the shoe. May as well use those idle hands to tie a shoe.
“What we wanted to do was solve something that we knew consumers wanted first as a problem,” says Rice. And, apparently, the “problem” of tying shoes is worth the millions it took to develop the Adapt BBs. But, then again, spending money on gratuitous tech is as comfortable for consumer America as an old shoe.