updated 10:10 am EDT, Thu September 11, 2008
Apple Nike Plus Patent
Apple is investigating putting more stringent controls on the Nike+iPod system used for the iPod nano and now the iPod touch, according to a new US patent filing. Expressing concern that customers might buy the Nike+iPod kit but use it with non-Nike shoes or in different locations, the patent describes using RFID tags and similar sensors built into shoes or other clothing to pair the transmitter with its intended destination. The device would refuse to work unless close to authorized clothes.
The company partly defends the patent by claiming that it would provide added security, preventing the transmitter from collecting or sending data if the device is stolen independently of the shoes. RFID devices could also store a small amount of information and create backups in case the Nike+iPod device is ever lost; this would be helped along by a means of generating a small amount of energy to power an active tag that would restore the necessary data.
Also proposed in the system is the addition of more tracking data in the sensor and in shoes themselves. While the current Nike+iPod kit is essentially a pedometer, a GPS receiver could add extra information about a runner's movement and also trigger certain conditions, such as outlining runs specific to a given location or popping up places of interest that appear near the run, such as restaurants.
The in-shoe invention would include multiple force sensors that could detect the pressure at each point of the foot and determine a runner's style either from run to run or with a new pair of shoes to compare the new footwear's effect on performance; voice feedback from the iPod could advise the user to change their stride or their foot placement to run faster or avoid undue stress.
Apple is under no obligation to use all of the patent's inventions and would likely introduce controversy by requiring that customers use Nike shoes or clothes for its exercise system to work, as a number of companies have developed cases and other enclosures that fit the sensor to third-party shoes.
However, the filing unusually credits the invention to Apple's Senior Director of Product Marketing for the iPhone line, Bob Borchers, as well as company patent attorney Brett Alten; the connection points to research into incorporating such changes in the iPhone or iPod touch.
The second-generation iPod touch introduced this week is the first from Borchers' division that supports Nike+iPod, but so far has no new features aside from its new interface and a built-in receiver.