LAS VEGAS — Nike is using CES to launch a new gadget in its “Nike Plus” line, which began in 2006 with an in-shoe sensor that connects to an iPod to track and record running activity.
The company is introducing the “Nike+ SportWatch GPS,” with GPS services provided by TomTom. It doesn’t help runners navigate, but it keeps track of where they go, so their progress can be mapped and shared when they return and sync the watch with a computer.
It’s relatively low tech compared with some of the gadgets at the show, but the watch sits at the intersection of a few big trends, including the growing use of geolocation services, new applications of social Web services and the surge of connected devices for health and fitness.
Nike’s iPhone apps already let users share their running progress via Facebook and Twitter, so friends online can send them cheers and encouragement relayed through the phone during the run.
The watch won’t receive cheers, but it will give kudos when milestones and record speeds are reached, such as a user’s best 10k time. Nike’s also introducing a “check in” service to let users stake a virtual claim to particular routes and socialize with habitues.
Inside the rubbery band is a hidden USB plug also used to charge the battery, which lasts about nine hours. The watch also works with Nike Plus sensors in shoes, so it keeps tracking steps when used indoors or where GPS reception isn’t available.
Nike’s been stepping up (sorry …) its in-house software development as its Plus line has grown beyond the original partnership with Apple. A wristband that holds a Plus sensor was introduced in 2008 and a band with a heart monitor went on sale five months ago.
GPS capabilities were added last September with a $2 iPhone app that’s the top health and fitness app on iTunes with more than 500,000 downloads, according to Ricky Engelberg, director of digital sports experiences at the Beaverton, Ore.-based company.
The watch provides similar capabilities for those who don’t own an iPhone or don’t want to take one along on their run. It’s sort of waterproof — Engelberg said it can be worn for a quick swim but lengthy immersion isn’t a good idea.
Nike is simultaneously upgrading the website where users upload and track their runs. The site’s getting a new mapping service, based on Google Maps, in March just before the watch goes on sale April 1. The price is undisclosed but it should be between $199 and $299.
The watch and mapping services would also be cool for cyclists and walkers but Nike doesn’t have any immediate plans to broaden the scope of the Web service, which remains focused on running, Engelberg said.
Here’s a video of Engelberg demonstrating the watch: