I was a very early adopter – and advocate – of the Nike+iPod system. Apple and Nike developed an easy and fun way to track running data on the iPod nano and the Nikeplus.com website. Unfortunately, as Apple’s product line advanced into phone and touch territory, the Nike+ system remained stagnant. Not only is the Nike+iPod hardware incompatible with the iPhone and iPod touch, you can’t even check your stats on the Nikeplus website with mobile Safari, due to Nike’s heavy reliance on Flash. As a result, the question I’m most often asked these days is, “When will the iPhone support Nike+iPod?” That question is now largely moot thanks to the introduction of RunKeeper.
RunKeeper is a new iPhone app that does a great job of emulating the Nike+iPod experience without the need for extra hardware, special shoes (or shoe hacks), or an iPod nano. It uses the built-in GPS of the iPhone 3G to track your distance, time, and pace, then automatically uploads your data to the RunKeeper website where you can view your routes and run history.
Using RunKeeper couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve downloaded and launched the app for the first time, you’re asked to enter an email address and password to create an account on the RunKeeper website. (I’m not sure if you can skip this step or not, but there is an option to turn off the sending of data to their website.) After that, just go outside, press the start button, and start running. If you want to listen to music as you run, start your music via the iPod app before launching RunKeeper; music will play in the background. RunKeeper displays a graph of your pace in one-minute increments along with your time, speed (in miles or km), your total distance, and you average time per mi/km. The screen updates in real time and is easy to read at a glance. When you’re finished running, just tap the stop button.
Data from your runs is saved on the phone itself, for quick comparisons, and also uploaded to the RunKeeper website directly from the phone. No need to connect to a computer and sync. The RunKeeper website displays a list of your previous runs, and when you click on one, you’re given a google map with your route displayed. This is especially handy for checking the accuracy of your GPS reading.
On my two test runs, the accuracy was perfect. My first run was a one mile (nearly) run/walk with the iPhone held in my hand to test the responsiveness of the pace graph. My second was a one mile walk with the iPhone in my pocket, to see if I could still get a good reading. Both performed flawlessly. I run along the beach next to San Francisco Bay, so I have an especially clear view of the sky. In more urban or wooded areas, your results might not be as good.
Overall, RunKeeper is an exceptionally good value for $9.99 and a no-brainer purchase for runners (or bikers) who already own an iPhone 3G. This is exactly the direction Nike and Apple should have gone with Nike+iPod, but since they’ve chosen not to (yet), I’m glad RunKeeper took the initiative.
- Affordable ($9.99).
- Easy to use.
- Clear, easy to read display (even in direct sunlight).
- You can play iPod music in the background while RunKeeper is running.
- Effortless syncing with RunKeeper website.
- Handy mile markers on maps.
- Worked just fine with phone in my pocket (which RunKeeper doesn’t recommend).
- Worked with screen locked (which Runkeeper also doesn’t recommend).
- Not just for runners; Works for cyclists, walkers, skateboarders, rollerbladers.
- No need for any additional hardware, special shoes, or accessories.
- Doesn’t work on original iPhone or iPod touch (only iPhone 3G).
- Might have trouble getting clear GPS signal in urban or wooded areas.
- No Nike+iPod “PowerSong.”
- No congratulations from famous athletes at end of run.
- Graphics aren’t as polished as Nike+iPod interface/website.
- No widgets or way to share run data (yet).
- No calorie-burning calculation.
- Can’t run other iPhone apps – like Pandora – at same time (per Apple’s guidelines).
- Obviously doesn’t work on treadmills or elliptical machines.
RunKeeper can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about RunKeeper, and I’ll do my best to answer them.