RunKeeper - Marriage of sport and geekiness in your iPhone







If you practise any sport and have an iPod or iPhone I'm sure you have heard of Nike+ before. Back in 2003 Apple and Nike partnered to launch what at the time seemed like science fiction. A device, well, more of an ipod add-on and a sensor in your running trainers, that helped you to track your activity: Back then it was hugely innovative to have the distance run, pace and they even released celebrity workouts and music tracks to complement it. With time the service went social and users could share their goals with others. 



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Sounds good so far, but why is this article about RunKeeper and not Nike+? Nike and Apple made sure they would both get a fair part of the cake, selling the ipod receiver, shoe sensor and most notably, Nike running equipment that would fit the sensor clothes with pockets designed to fit an iPod nano. This makes a great business plan, but for the average guy like me it means spending at least 50$ to get started. 


Innovate or die. RunKeeeper's founders in Boston where aware of this circumstance and created an iPhone app that would allow you to do the same, but without needing to spend any extra penny in Nike equipment. 


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I have been using the RunKeeper application (both paid and free) for over a month now and I'm more than happy with it. Without using the running sensor, RunKeeper relies on GPS capabilities of the iPhone 3G and 3GS. This is the story of the indie devs that hurt bad the big boys from Oregon.


Using RunKeeper is not rocket science. A big thumbs up to the devs for coming up with a minimalist interface that works. Anything easier that "Start" and "Pause" buttons? When you open the app, RunKeeper welcomes you with the "Track Run" screen. This will be used to display in real time your stats for the session including Time, Distance and Pace. It adds a bar chart representing your speed in a timeline as well, so you can easily see how you're doing without even looking at the numbers. Every bar can be selected independently to give you the info about that specific part of your workout. So far so good. 


It doesn't stop there. RunKeeper can be set up for any sport activity (try using Nike+ cycling Armstrong!). From walking to... snowboarding. Try to think about it not like a hardcore sportsperson app. Walk the dog for 15 minutes and listen to your playlist with RunKeeper. When you get home you can access via web on your PC all the stats of your walk and even a map with your track. How cool is that. This app is very versatile and only for that it outruns (no pun intended) the Nike option. 


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There are a few differences between the paid and the free app. One of them is certainly not a lite badge in the app icon. Both icons are the same. The paid version is featured with some very nice, and for me essential, touches. If you go for Pro, a female voice will tell you how you are doing in your workout. You can set up the app to give you audio updates on your stats. Pro's can create and edit their own workout plans: Start warming up, starting running slow, continuing with two minutes steady run, next minute slowing down,... you get the idea. The combination of custom workouts and audio cues is pretty sweet. 


My only criticism to this app is that, since the iPhone doesn't support multitasking, you won't be able to use any other app during your training. Not even calls. That is quite a bummer and there is obviously and technical problem that the FitnessKeeper engineers have tried to solve as they could. If you get a call, the activity will be paused, but the time won't. Forget about using the iPod, RunKeeper will be paused. Perhaps my wish would be some sort of music controls or a better ipod integration. I think there is room for that. Don't trust the one star reviews in iTunes from people with an iPod touch or iPhone with no GPS.


Overall, RunKeeper is highly recommended. The Lite version is a must in every iPhone with GPS capabilities. For an extra £6 you can access the full potential of the app. And the VoiceOver playback is futuristic cool and turns your workout into something you look forward to. This is what this is all about, isn't it?


UPDATE 2nd Nov:

- Jason the founder of RunKeeper has mentioned in the comments how to use iPod controls with the app. You can either start your music and then launch RunKeeper. The music will continue playing. I prefer to use a pre-existing playlist and use the earbuds control to change volume, pause and skip songs. 

In the Pro version it looks like this:




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