RunKeeper Versus Runmeter on the iPhone: A Newbie Runner’s Review
[Corrected, see p. 2] If there’s one seductive thing about being a startup entrepreneur, it’s that you can utterly neglect exercise without feeling guilty about it. After all, doesn’t building a great company require every moment of wakefulness, every ounce of concentration? I know I’ve got a lot to show for my last three years of work at Xconomy: in addition to a couple thousand stories in the archives, there’s some serious flab on these bones.
Enough, in fact, to goad me out of my office chair and onto the street a couple of weeks ago for my first serious attempt at running. I knew I needed some form of workout, and running seemed like it would be the least hassle. With a gym membership, there’s always the mental barrier of driving to the gym, parking, and competing for the weight machines or the Stairmasters—not to mention the monthly fees. Runners can just pick up and go.
So I went running. But I had to complicate the process somehow—and being a gadget geek, I naturally took along my iPhone. For a couple of years now, I’ve had a GPS-based exercise tracking app on the phone called RunKeeper, made by Boston startup FitnessKeeper. But I’ve only used it for cycling, never running, which is what it was really designed for. So I used the app to record my first run. On subsequent runs, I decided to try out a similar app, Abvio’s Runmeter, so that I could write up a comparison.
Before I start detailing my observations, though, a few words of caution that may spare my fellow newbie runners some agony. Don’t set out on your first run with the idea of finding out just how far you can go. That’s what I did. My motives were admirable: as I just mentioned, I’d never done any real running, so I had no idea whether I’d keel over after one mile, or glide along for several. It turned out I was able to run five miles, no problem. (I guess the fact that I travel by bike whenever possible has had some cardiovascular benefits.) The next day: six miles. “This is great!,” I thought. “Five or six miles right off the couch! Next stop, San Francisco Marathon!”
Then the tendonitis set in. By the evening after my third run, I could barely walk—my right Achilles tendon was swollen and burning. I’ve been icing it and dosing up on ibuprofen, and it’s almost back to normal now. Experienced runners like my colleague Luke—who’s out pounding the pavement in Seattle every morning, rain or shine—will just shake their heads, but I’ve since learned that I should probably have started out more gradually, and prefaced my runs with a lot more stretching.
But I’ll be back on the road soon—so on to the product comparison.
I should point out that there are actually quite a few mobile apps that use GPS to track your runs and produce basic reports, including maps of your routes and statistics on the distance completed, your average pace, and the like. MapMyFitness makes apps for iPhone and BlackBerry; Trimble makes an app called AllSport GPS, also for the iPhone and BlackBerry; and Nike has probably the best-known system, Nike+, which uses a sensor in your shoe that communicates with an iPhone, iPod Nano, or a special wristband.
But RunKeeper, which came out in August 2008 and is available for the iPhone and Android phones, is the app I’m most familiar with, having written several stories about FitnessKeeper for Xconomy Boston. It’s also one of the most successful—it came in at No. 8 in Time Magazine’s list of the top 10 iPhone apps of 2009, and is regularly ranked among the top 30 most popular health and fitness apps in the iTunes App Store. So that’s the app I used to kick off my running career.
There are two versions of RunKeeper—a free one that’s advertising-supported, and a $9.99 premium one with no ads and cool added features such as audio cues and split times. I’ve been using the free version, which does most of what I need as a beginner, but I’ll probably upgrade soon, as I’d like to try out some of the built-in coaching features.
While you’re running, the app shows you how long you’ve been going, your average pace in minutes per mile, your pace for each individual minute, and the number of calories you’ve burned. On another screen you can see your current location on a Google map with a red line that traces the route you’ve been following, with little green signs at each mile mark. The app saves the data from each of your runs when you’re done, and also automatically uploads the data to the RunKeeper website.
With the Pro (premium) version of RunKeeper, you can even snap pictures while you’re out running, and the app will geotag them and attach them to the point on the map where you took them. (That feature mimics another favorite mobile app of mine called EveryTrail.) The Pro version also includes the aforementioned coaching functions, where a voice speaks over your headphones to help you keep to a desired target pace, or tells you to speed up or slow down for interval training.
The RunKeeper website is where things really get interesting. RunKeeper isn’t just an app—it’s a lifestyle. The site includes an online control center for your data and a social network to support your overall fitness goals.
Each run, walk, or bike ride is uploaded to your profile, where you can review maps and stats from all your outings, and see fitness reports detailing your acttivities over time. If you have another FitnessKeeper-enabled device, such as a Withings Wi-Fi scale, this data will also flow into your reports, so that you can track things like your weight and body fat percentage. And most importantly, you can build a community of other RunKeeper users, which can be useful as a source of both peer pressure and mutual support. You can see Facebook-style updates on your friends’ latest activities and compare your own activity records to the people on your “Street Team” (FitnessKeeper’s name for your friends list).
As my colleague Erin wrote last week, FitnessKeeper has just added fitness classes and training plans to its website as well. For $9.99 to $19.99 (or half off if you’ve bought a “RunKeeper Elite” annual membership for $19.99), you can sign up for 5K or half-marathon courses designed by Jeff Galloway, a running author and columnist and former Olympic 10,000-meter runner. The parameters for each run in the course then appear in the RunKeeper app’s calendar, and on the day of each run you get prompts showing you how far to go. As you train you can connect with others signed up for the same course.
Runmeter, by contrast, is much more self-contained. Abvio, the San Francisco company behind the app, is proudly iPhone-centric, meaning there aren’t Android or BlackBerry versions of the app, and all the action takes place within the app itself—there’s no online profile and no social networking. (But there is social media. As with RunKeeper, you can set the app to automatically publish data about each run you finish in the form of a tweet or a Facebook status update.)
[Corrected 10:20 a.m. 10/15/10] Runmeter came out in September 2009 and currently ranks just below RunKeeper in the health and fitness category of the App Store. Abvio also makes separate programs for walking and biking called Walkmeter and Cyclemeter; all of them cost $4.99, with no free versions. (Cyclemeter is currently ahead of both RunKeeper and Runmeter in the App Store rankings.) Given that Abvio’s focus is entirely on its apps, the Runmeter app feels slightly more built-out and feature-rich than the RunKeeper app. Of course, it’s got the obligatory stopwatch screen showing your time, distance, and pace, and (if you select this in the settings) calories burned, as well as a map showing your route and graphs showing your pace over time and your elevation. All of your routes are saved on the device; there’s no automatic backup to the Web. But you can export your run and map data to a computer via e-mail, choosing from a range of formats for the export (Google Maps, GPX, KML, and CSV). You can also sync data from your runs to your iPhone’s calendar app, which is a nice way of logging your runs in the context of all your other activities.
Runmeter has a couple of other nifty features as well. One of them is “auto stop detection,” meaning that the clock stops when you’re immobile (say, waiting for the walk signal at an intersection). That way, involuntary pauses in your run don’t count against you in the average pace calculation. The automatic voice announcements over your headphones are highly configurable: you can set them to occur at a range of time or distance intervals, and you can pick what data gets announced, and in what order. You can run against “ghosts” of yourself on the same route on previous runs. The app can use text-to-speech technology to read incoming replies from your friends on Twitter and Facebook over your headphones. If you’re running uphill, the app will take note of the slope and adjust your calorie burn rate accordingly. And there are many other features and customization options.
As far as performance, I’ve found so far that both Runmeter and RunKeeper work exactly as advertised. The distance and map data seem accurate and consistent, and both apps give you several ways to bask in the glory of your accomplishments by reviewing your past activities.
So which app should you choose? That probably depends on what kind of runner you are. If you tend to pursue your fitness goals alone and you just want an app that accurately tracks your runs, Runmeter will do everything you need and more. But if you want to tap into the power of social groups, share your activity data with friends, and access training classes and other help, then RunKeeper Pro is the better option.
Heck, the apps aren’t that expensive — for $15 you can buy both of them and compare them for yourself.
And to give you even more to chew over, I plan to bring you a smackdown between the creators of the two apps. I called up both Steve Kusmer, former CEO of Atomz and co-founder of Abvio, and Jason Jacobs, the Babson College MBA and marathoner who founded FitnessKeeper, to get their takes on the similarities and differences between their apps. In a separate piece coming Monday, I’ll quote each of them at length. You’ll see that, like most competitive athletes, they aren’t above trash-talking the competition a little bit.
Continue to Part 2: The Running App Founder Smackdown