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Puma Goes Back to the Future With Computerized Running Shoes

Puma SE’s latest contribution to the world of retro footwear—or is it the wearable tech movement?—is a revamped 32-year-old sneaker with computers in its heels.

The German company is selling a refurbished version of its 1986 RS-Computer shoe, which presaged an era in which athletes use gadgets to keep track of steps taken, distances covered and calories burned. The newer version retains the predecessor’s look, from the streamlined color design up front to the bulky, “Back to the Future”-era device sticking out the back.

Much has changed since 1986, of course. For one thing, Puma in recent months has struggled to keep pace with consumers turning away from minimalist retro sneakers in favor of chunkier styles influenced by the fashion runway. While shoppers for a while were snapping up revived versions of classics like Puma’s Clyde and rival Adidas AG’s Stan Smith, they’ve this year favored bulkier footwear inspired by luxury brands’ designs, like Balenciaga’s $900 Triple S.

Then there’s the technology difference. In 1986, the RS-Computer shoe—the letters stand for “running system”—uploaded data on an athlete’s steps, distances and calories via a 16-pin connector to an Apple IIe or Commodore 64 home computer.

Now, it’s equipped with Bluetooth technology that links with Android and Apple Inc. smartphones. It comes with an app, too, that manages and processes data—and, not incidentally, has old-school 8-bit graphics. The only thing to plug in now is a USB cable that recharges the lithium-polymer batteries.

The shoe probably won’t encroach much on the turf of exercise-tracking companies like Strava Inc. and Garmin Ltd. That’s because Puma plans to sell only 86 of them globally.