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Why Adidas is taking a radically different approach to sneaker technology

Brian Sozzi

Let Nike and Under Armour have sneakers filled with sensors that connect to an app, said Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted.

“We believe the real impact of tech will not be on the product itself, but instead around the product — how you engage with consumers,” Rorsted told Yahoo Finance at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. “We believe this for one simple reason — the data you can get out of sensors in a product you can’t put to really good usage. Until the killer app comes, putting sensors in the products will do very little for the athlete.”

Adidas has instead chosen a different path under Rorsted’s watch. The company has tested releasing limited edition 3D-printed sneakers while also teaming up with rapper Kanye West in an effort to drive buzz among athletes and sneaker-heads. Adidas has also ramped up its initiative to make shoes and apparel out of recycled material.

In 2018 alone, Adidas produced 5 million pairs of shoes from recycled plastic waste. It plans to double that in 2019.

Each case here has Adidas connecting with consumers through story-telling rather than their smartphones. That may not be a bad approach seeing as sneakers with sensors have largely been relegated to gimmick status. Sometimes they don’t connect correctly to an app. Other times the person wearing the sneaker stops using the data produced by the product.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Alec Burks (10) wears Adidas shoes in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Nike, Under Armour forge ahead with sensors

Suffice it to say, Adidas’s rivals Nike and Under Armour continue to take radically different approaches when it comes to infusing tech into sneakers. Nike is fresh off unveiling the Adapt BB sneakers. The self-tying basketball sneakers are the follow-up to the high-top ones released in small batches in 2016. Nike’s Adapt BB pairs with a smartphone and collects activity data and allows one to personalize the fit of the sneaker.

The shoes go on sale Feb. 17 for a pricey $350, and for many in the sneaker world offer a glimpse into what putting on a sneaker could look like in the future.

Meanwhile, Under Armour continues to tinker away with putting sensors in its running sneakers. At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show, Under Armour revealed five new iterations of its popular HOVR sneaker line with built-in activity sensors. They are slated to go on sale in February.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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