Nike unveils second self-lacing shoe

Kyle Stock Bloomberg

Nike’s research and development department finally made it to the 1980s. During an event in Manhattan on Wednesday, the sportswear giant unveiled a self-lacing sneaker not unlike the kicks showcased by a baby-faced Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future II.”

There wasn’t a DeLorean in sight.

Nike’s public relations team perhaps failing to recall the well-remembered 1989 movie breathlessly promised the shoe would “manifest the unimaginable.” As usual, the company delivered an over-the-top event, flying in hundreds of journalists, a busload of Foot Locker executives and comedian Kevin Hart.

The shoe, however, wasn’t a shock. Nike has held a patent for a self-lacing system since 2013, and in October it gave a prototype pair to Marty McFly himself. The shoe cinches up when the heel is weighted, and it can be tightened or loosened at the push of a button.

In truth, tiny motors and batteries don’t seem as vanguard as they did 27 years ago. The ultimate plan is to make a version of the system that adjusts the fit automatically as an athlete’s foot moves.

That’s why Nike dubbed its robot sneaker “Hyperadapt 1.0.” Unlike most movies, the sequel is expected to be much better than the original.“In the future, this thing will come alive,” Nike designer Tinker Hatfield said. “It’s not a gimmick.”

In addition to a bunch of other new products, Nike also promised to release a new app in June, which has the potential to drive far greater returns than any sneaker. Nike launched its first app in 2006, but its technological performance has thus far been more akin to that of Michael Jordan, the forgettable baseball player, than to Michael Jordan, the basketball star.

The company currently has about six apps a sort of grab bag of narrow focuses. There’s one for tracking runs, and another for downloading workouts that aren’t runs. One to track general activity with Nike’s now largely defunct Fuelband, and one to track it without. Finally, a couple are focused on selling shoes. If reviews are any guide, they’re a mixed bag. Nike no longer says how many people are using its apps.

The company hopes the new offering, dubbed simply Nike+, will be the one to rule them alla flexible platform that is part social network, part activity archive, part personal trainer, and part Nike store.

“Today, athletes want more than a dashboard; they want a relationship,” Nike’s chief executive officer, Mark Parker said.

More importantly, the platform should help Nike keep up (or catch up) with Under Armour, which has been buying established app platforms rather than trying to build them from scratch. Since late 2013, the Baltimore company has spent almost $1 billion on fitness and diet apps, a shopping spree that has helped it build a community of 150 million smart phone athletes.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has been clear that he sees technology as an area where the company can narrow Nike’s lead in the sportswear game.

Nike executives, however, know what they do best: sell shoes in all shapes, sizes and colors. Yesterday, Nike released nine new shoes, and that’s not counting the self-lacing pair and all the other ones at the big innovation summit in New York. Even with Steph Curry on its endorsement roster, Under Armour pales in comparison when it comes to actually releasing new footwear.

Wisely, some of the most prominent features on Nike’s new app will be early access to limited-edition sneakers, a chance to skip the line at coveted releases, and a tool to design custom footwear.

Interested in the new self-lacing kicks? They’ll go on sale this holiday season. And they’ll be available on the app first.