If you're a Nike+iPod Sport Kit fan, you may eventually find yourself being restricted to using it with Nike-branded sportswear, thanks to a recently-published Apple patent application. The patent, filed for in March of 2007 and published last week, describes a "Smart Garment" that would allow a gadget to authenticate to a specific garment—whether that garment is shoes, pants, or a jacket. When the garment is authenticated, however, unapproved garments would be blocked from being able to use the device.
In this patent, Apple makes no attempt to hide the fact that it's essentially an attempt to enforce something like DRM on the pairing of clothing with technology. The company specifically cites the Nike+iPod system as an example of a system that works with a specially-made shoe: Nike+ shoes that have a little crevice cut out under the sole that allows you to place the transmitter inside the shoe, which wirelessly sends data to your iPod about your walk or run. "However, some people have taken it upon themselves to remove the sensor from the special pocket of the Nike+.TM. shoe and place it at inappropriate locations (shoelaces, for example) or place it on non-Nike+.TM. model shoes," writes Apple.
Indeed, since the launch of the Nike+iPod Sport Kit in 2006, there have been numerous accessory makers that have created pouches, clips, and everything in between that allow users to attach the shoe sensor to non-Nike shoes. After all, even the most casual of runners tends to have a preference for a certain brand of running shoe, even if they otherwise love being able to track their stats using the iPod that they already carry with them. But the number of runners using their Nike+ sensors with non-Nike shoes can't be that high—most people would prefer to just use the gadget with the shoe it was made for. Is Nike really suffering that much from users buying the sport kit but not buying Nike shoes? And if so, why is Apple the one selected to enforce this pairing?
Apple argues that the system is meant more for preventing thieves or "a recalcitrant finder" from taking the device and attempting to use it with unauthorized garments. This would "markedly [reduce] the incentive to steal (or keep) the sensor resulting in vastly improved security than would otherwise be possible." Of course, for a little gadget and dongle that costs $29 and is more likely to get lost on your coffee table than stolen, such "security" measures could be considered a little excessive.
Naturally, Apple's patent doesn't just aim to limit the garment choices of Nike+iPod users—it attempts to offer extra features along with the garment authentication system. For example, one embodiment could make use of a sensor within the garment itself in order to provide more data to the user, such as the rate of wear of a running shoe. "[I]n many cases, a runner will not notice that a running shoe has been worn down to the point where crucial support (arch support, for example) has eroded thereby increasing the likelihood of injury. In this way, by providing a notification that one or both of the running shoes should be replaced, the runner may be better able to avoid injuries related to outworn equipment," writes Apple. And, if a GPS unit is involved, then the system could also track location and elevation data in order to provide more detailed statistics, or it could give on-the-spot information to the user, like the location of nearby restaurants.
Some of these proposed features do indeed sound cool—especially for someone like myself who actually uses (and likes) her Nike+iPod Sport Kit. However, it would be nice if we weren't forced to choose between DRM for our clothing and these possible new features.Posted on