Athletic footwear keeps getting smarter. The latest entry into the shoe-with-a-sensor category pioneered by Adidas is Xiaomi, China’s rising electronics company, and sportswear giant Li-Ning.
The two companies formed the first collaboration between sports and smart technology in China—creating smart shoes competitively priced at about $32. A higher-end model costs about $63. The Li-Ning Smart Shoes, which hit the market in July, feature Xiaomi-supplied devices: built-in military-grade motion sensors that collect performance metrics and a Bluetooth fitness tracker that sends the data to the user’s smartphone.Shoes have been going high-tech for decades. In 1984, Adidas introduced the Micropacer: the first smart shoe with a built-in sensor Click To Tweet. Nike partnered with Apple in 2006 to launch the Nike+ iPod Sport Kit, which featured the first built-in wireless activity tracker for training shoes.
Adidas achieved another landmark in 2011 through the miCoach SPEED_CELL, the first device that captured information from 360-degree movement. Nike responded a year later by launching Nike+ Pressure Sensors, which had one function previous sensors lacked: rechargeability.
Xiaomi and Li-Ning introduced Smart Shoes amid fast times for the global athletic footwear market. It’s projected to reach $87 billion by 2020, up from $80.5 billion in 2015. The Chinese companies have something else going for them: few competitors near their price point.
Nike began phasing out Nike+ Sensor shoes last spring, with only one model available for $110. Adidas continues to sell data-collecting devices but for more than twice the price of the Li-Ning Smart Shoes—not to mention that users also must purchase sensor-compatible shoes.
Western consumers looking for cheaper options will have to wait. Li-Ning has not said whether it will market its smart shoes outside of China.