Wearable Tech World Feature Article
October 31, 2013

The New adidas Smart Run Smartwatch - It's Very Cool but the miCoach Platform is the Secret Sauce

We recently caught up with Paul Gaudio, head of adidas Interactive, to get an insider's perspective on why adidas chose to move in the specific direction of a "runner's" smartwatch. We are awaiting the arrival of the device in order to provide a full, hands-off review; here we are more interested in uncovering what adidas believes is special and essential to the new device.

The key to miCoach is the complimentary notion of delivering a real time coaching capability. The platform isn't merely about collecting data and offering back a smattering of analysis. It is about helping people to develop real training programs that specifically target real goals and real workouts on a daily basis. Though miCoach can, of course, be used by anyone, including the far flung and vast collection of everyday fitness buffs, adidas took the development time necessary to deliver a product that can be intelligently used by world class athletes.

The company now feels that miCoach has achieved a level of usability that meets this professional level design goal, and is beginning to build out serious wearable training products that can take advantage of it. Many, if not most, wearable tech fitness devices began life as "devices" that subsequently had some primarily mobile apps tacked on to do basic evaluations. These apps - some of which are fully desktop compatible, collect all sorts of data and render all sorts of graphs based on usage. This in turn has led to the term "the quantifiable self" - a catchall buzz-phrase that fitness buffs in particular have latched on to.

Though adidas certainly could have gone down this path as well (and of course it is certainly possible to use miCoach in this fashion), it would have added more marketing hype, but not necessarily more useful functionality to the general noise. The miCoach platform seeks to transcend all of that. The first example of real use by adidas beyond the quantifiable self buzz-phrase is the professional team sports capabilities it has built with miCoach Elite, which we've covered separately. The company also has several wearable monitoring devices that utilize sensors and straps in hand, but these are early generation devices and we won't concern ourselves with them.

Having built the miCoach "secret sauce" platform, and having delivered on the miCoach Elite team sports wearable tech capabilities, rather than continue down the path of simplistic wearable tech sensing devices, adidas instead chose, as Paul made clear to us, to pursue building a high end wearable technology device that is able to take full advantage of miCoach's capabilities. We will note here that it is important to understand that by "high end" we mean specifically a product that is built to very high tolerances using premium materials, such as magnesium rather than aluminum, that delivers light weight and will stand up to the professional use of Olympic- and world-class athletes.

The new watch - dubbed Smart Run - will initially be priced at $399. That's the same price as Apple's new retina display iPad mini will sell for. For the average sports and fitness buff that is a steep price though there will be plenty of such folks who will sign on - and benefit from it. For the professional, semi-professional and otherwise very serious runners (let's say that anyone interested in seriously training for either a full or half marathon or even a typical 5k race qualifies as "serious") it is in fact a small price to pay to essentially give yourself a professional training and coaching environment. This is precisely what Paul says adidas is targeting. It is in keeping with the philosophy that adidas has developed for its wearable technology efforts - to deliver serious training tools to real athletes and to people who want a serious wearable tech "partner."

As we noted earlier we will get into the detailed nuts and bolts of the Smart Run once we have it in hand. But we will note the key differentiators here that Paul outlined for us. The key consideration is that the device eliminates the need to be tethered to a smartphone to work. Paul notes that this desire to shed the smartphone has been a huge demand in all research adidas conducts.

It is self-contained and contains enough Flash memory on it to contain music for those times a runner simply wants to be in the zone and running. It is low powered, Bluetooth 4 enabled - and it connects easily to wireless headsets. Runners can either choose to listen to music or to have miCoach deliver training information as they run. It eliminates the need as well to glance at the watch while training.

The Smart Run contains a GPS sensor, of course, but it also delivers on a special heart rate monitor that the smartwatch uses to interact directly with the runner. The heart rate monitor completely eliminates the need for using a chest band or armband type of sensor - which professional and serious level athletes have typically had no choice but to use in the past. It is a key differentiator and fundamental to using miCoach. We should note that a great deal of software and unique algorithms are part and parcel of the design.

It works across every type of training possibility - with the exception of swimming. By design, the Smart Run is not waterproof; it is water resistant of course. Tri-athletes can still use it for two thirds of their training but Paul underscores that it is not designed as a tool for swimmers.

Clearly adidas is focused on designing specific wearable tech tools that meet specific requirements for specific sports. Paul notes that it is now possible - due to significant advances in the sensor technology - to finally deliver a serious training device. That leads us to mention one last key thing - the Smart Run is Wi-Fi enabled and will automatically sync with the miCoach app without the user needing to think about it. It happens automatically.

That is the design goal mandate for the Smart Run. We find the device quite impressive. It only contains one button and a very high readability touch display. Again, more on this when we get to our hands-off review.

The company went to significant lengths to design a product that a user can also continue to wear throughout the day. There is subtle design elegance to it - and this extends to the specific materials the watch is made of. It looks and feels much more like a high end watch than a serious heart rate monitor. But ultimately it is a means to delivering miCoach capabilities to the user in real time during all aspects of training.

Finally, we will note that Paul also points out that the device does another thing quite well - it tells the time. What more can one ask for?!

Edited by Tony Rizzo

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