Charged Up: Adidas can still make sports wearables better

Adidas' hardware dreams are over, but I hope it doesn't give up entirely on wearables

I remember talking to a startup around a year ago about the general state of wearables and we got onto the topic of Nike and Adidas' involvement in the space.

Nike had of course backed away from making its own hardware some time ago with the FuelBand long gone, while at the time Adidas was still pursuing making devices. Even if it had already decided it wasn't going to make another GPS running watch.

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We got talking about customer service (stay with me) and how the nature of customer service changes when you go from just selling t-shirts and basketball shoes to running watches and fitness trackers. It inevitably becomes more complex and it's probably not all that an attractive proposition for big companies like Nike and Adidas, knowing they'll have to put out technical fires.

Now I'm not saying this is the reason that Adidas recently announced it was cutting its digital fitness division, which includes wearables, but it did make me think of my experience with what seems will now be the company's last wearables. Overall, it was positive, but it was problematic too and when I think about the problems I encountered, I think about those people who were not in such a privileged position like myself to test before putting down a lot of money.

Take the miCoach Smart Run running watch. It had GPS, a touchscreen display, built-in music player and external heart rate monitor support. It was actually a great watch and I'm not the only person in the team who thought that. But it had a pretty big issue problem when it first launched: the battery was terrible. Granted, it did get resolved eventually, but the fact that's what I first think of when I remember the Smart Run, I think says a lot.

Charged Up: Adidas can still make sports wearables better

It was a similar story with the Fit Smart fitness band as well. A solid device yes, but it had some niggling issues that made it difficult to recommend to people. I didn't have a lot of experience with Adidas' other wearable devices like its footpod sensors or the connected apparel that helped the German international football team become world champions and found its way into the lives of many elite sports teams, but it's clear they were well thought of.

The software glue that held all of this hardware together was Adidas' MiCoach platform, which is also entirely disappearing in place of Runtastic, the app company it bought back in 2015 for €220 million. While its hardware was not perfect, there was very few reasons to fault the MiCoach platform and makes the decision to back away from wearables all that more disappointing. It's only just launched its promising All Day fitness app for women as well, which looks destined to exist without the rumoured Chameleon fitness tracker.

But what it does mean is that with this software know-how, I feel like Adidas can still play its part in making fitness-focused wearables better, hopefully by working much closer with the companies that will still continue making them and through more collaborations and partnerships. I know we already have the Fitbit Ionic Adidas edition to look forward to, but to be honest it feels a bit like the kind of collaboration that Nike has with Apple for its smartwatch. Basically, not a whole lot will probably be different from the standard Ionic.

I'd like to see Adidas work closer with the likes of Android Wear, Fitbit, smart clothing manufacturers and others whose platforms would benefit from Adidas' expertise. With its experience making hardware, it'll have a better understanding than most of the possibilities and limitations and how wearables can do a much better job of tracking our fitness and health.

It's clearly what Nike decided to do after the Fuelband and more recently Under Armour when it decided to abort its big HealthBox platform plans. If Adidas still wants to be in this space (and I hope it does) and doesn't feel burnt by its most recent experiences with making wearables, it could still elevate what sporty smartwatches and trackers are truly capable of. Adidas' wearable adventure doesn't have to end on a such a sour note. I'm confident this won't be the last time I'm writing about a company that should be remembered for being bold and trying to do ambitious things. Thank you, Adidas.





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