Hands-on – Runkeeper Pro’s HRM support (via Wahoo Fitness Fisica key)

This post covers the Wahoo Fitness Fisica key and its integration with the Runkeeper Pro app. Applicable photos to be added later today.

Until recently, the only way to record HRM data against Runkeeper activities was to:

  • record the average HR
  • import the HR data from a compatible Polar or Garmin device

However, several days ago, Runkeeper launched v2.4 of their Pro app which almost silently included support for Wahoo Fitness’ Fisica Key which is a dongle that attaches to the bottom of your iPhone.

Firstly, many have asked why the iPhone (and Runkeeper) won’t support Bluetooth HRM chest straps. The reason is that Apple currently prevent this type of device interacting with the iPhone. Some BT profiles are compatible with the iPhone. The profile used by HRM straps isn’t. It’s unclear whether they will in the future but let’s hope so.

So, if you want integrated HRM on your iPhone, the only sensible option is to use the Wahoo Fisica Key and an application that’s compatible. Wahoo provide an API for app developers to integrate to the key. The key uses ANT+ to collect or read data from a compatible HRM chest strap and the app developer use the API to collect data from the key.

It is currently only possible to purchase the WFK from the Wahoo Fitness website (http://www.wahoofitness.com). If you live in the UK, you can expect delivery to take only 3 – 4 working days. This is pretty impressive! The product is shipped by USPS and then Parcelforce. Tracking is only possible for the USPS part of its journey. The tracking information is sent via email once the product has been dispatched.

Upon delivery of the WFK and, if you have a compatible HRM strap, you are ready to try out the HRM feature within Runkeeper Pro.

The WFK plugs into the socket at the bottom of the iPhone. The key is small, although ideally I’d like it smaller. Once plugged in, the key’s dimensions are 27mm x 17mm x 7mm.

When plugged in, the WFK seems pretty secure. More about this later.

Some users are concerned that they may not be able to use the WFK with their current armband. It really depends if the armband has a suitable hole/slot at the bottom. If you can plug a USB charger cable into the bottom of your iPhone whilst in your armband, plugging in the WFK will be fine. If you can’t, it’s time to invest in a new armband. The tuneband armband (http://grantwoodstore.com/Tuneband-for-iPhone-4-Fits-both/M/B003ZZKL6U.htm) works fine.

Wahoo have a couple of apps in the iPhone app store. These are the Wahoo Fisica Utility and Fisica Fitness. The former app is useful in checking that your HRM strap is compatible. The latter app is odd as if you choose to run, it seems to prevent you using it unless you have a stride sensor.

In terms of compatibility between the WFK and HRM straps, any ANT+ strap will be fine. I have a Garmin Premium Soft HRM Strap which is ANT+ compatible.

It is recommended that you download and install Wahoo Fisica Utility to initially pair the WFK with your HRM strap. The app provides quite a lot of informational content about the Wahoo Fisica solution. In addition, it allows the user to connect to and test each of the sensors (the Fisica key supports HRM, bike speed/cadence sensors, bike power sensors, stride sensors, weight scales and blood pressure sensors. Please note that the Runkeeper app only integrates HRM data at the time of writing).

Once you have the app installed, simply connect the WFK to your iPhone, start up the app, choose Sensors, select Heart Rate and then click Connect. Within a couple of seconds, the HR will be presented on screen along with the signal efficiency and serial number of your key.

In terms of allowable distance between the HRM strap and your iPhone (with key plugged in), Wahoo state 5 feet. My Garmin HRM strap states 3 metres. However, I’ve got at least 15 feet away and still had a very good signal.

Once you’ve tested the WFK and got it to connect using the Fisica Utility, it’s time to start tracking activities with HR data via Runkeeper.

With the WFK plugged in and an activity started, the only indication that HRM being captured is the heart symbol and the current HR being presented under the activity stats panel on the Current Activity page. As you proceed through your activity, this is updated about once per second.

Runkeeper Pro Current Activity Screen showing current HR

During the activity, the WFK seemed to remain securely attached to my iPhone. I was concerned that it may drop out as I ran but this (fortunately) didn’t happen. I was also concerned that if the armband moved around my arm that there could be a possibility of stress on the connector for the WFK. To allay this fear, periodically during my run, I moved the armband to a position such that this couldn’t happen.

At the end of the activity and once the data had uploaded to Runkeeper, the HRM data is presented in the pace/elevation/speed chart as a new data series as shown below.

Runkeeper HRM graph

The Wahoo Fitness Fisica key solution isn’t cheap (about £60) and with an ANT+ HRM strap is likely to cost about £100 in total. However, this is cheaper than the cheapest GPS/HRM sports watch and Runkeeper is much more powerful than watches in the class.

I decided to go ahead and buy the Wahoo solution based on the following:

  • I had a ANT+ compatible strap already (£35-40 in the UK)
  • Wahoo and ANT+ support a number of other sensors (bike speed/cadence, bike power, stride sensors) which may be supported by Runkeeper in the future. Potentially good for cadence tracking while running or for cycling
  • Apple don’t currently support Bluetooth HRM straps and there’s no proof that they ever will (although it would make sense for them to do so)
  • Apple don’t currently support ANT+ devices directly. Maybe the next generation of iPhone will include ANT+ support but this is likely to be several months away at the earliest
  • Investing in an ANT+ solution gives me future compatibility with Garmin sports watches and maybe the newly announced Nike/TomTom watch should I ever decide to purchase one.

In terms of the HRM integration with Runkeeper Pro, the first phase is basic (presentation of current HR on activity screen) and then download of HRM data as part of activity. However, I think there’s a lot of scope to make HR data much more useful for training workouts through the inclusion of HR zones for workout intervals.

In fact, here’s some feedback I provided re HRM data to the Runkeeper team:

App:

(a) it looks like the presentation of the HR was an afterthought. Would be good if the HR could be integrated more into the ‘activity metrics’ at the top of the screen. Maybe allow the user to choose whether to display calories or HR.

(b) I’d like to see the HR being presented per interval in the splits/intervals display

(c) It would be useful if current HR (averaged over a period of time) were announced. For some, this is more important/useful than pace. The same with the ‘last interval’ HR.

(d) It would be good to be able to view the ‘average’ HR per minute by selecting the bars in the chart

Runkeeper.com:

(i) In the splits display, it would be useful to present the average HR for the split/interval

(ii) when scrolling over the pace/elevation/HR chart, the choice of information presented in the metrics popup appears sporadic. For example, when choosing pace, HR is not presented in the ‘popup’ and time disappears at some points during the scrolling. When ‘tracking’ the HR line, pace isn’t presented and time sporadically disappears from the popup

(iii) HR data is not currently exported as part of the .GPX export. This should be added.

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Running with music helps athletic performance

In a recent study (detailed in a BBC news article ‘How music can aid athletic performance‘), it was shown that running with the right music could improve running performance by 15%. Well, I need all the help I can get.

With this in mind, I decided that it was about time I stopped listening to the Runner’s World Rock ‘n’ Run playlist and try and find some music to match my cadence. Or find some music with the right BPM to increase my cadence.

Although I’ve not got lots of tracks in my iTunes library, I thought they were a good place to start and I tried a couple of Desktop applications; Cadence and Powerade Pulse which allow you to analyse your existing library and then attach the BPM for each track.

Powerade Pulse simply didn’t work for me at all! Sat forever and a day trying to check my iTunes library. FAIL!

Cadence was much better. It analyses your iTunes library and then gives each track a BPM metric. It then creates playlists for each BPM range. Great! The bad news is that very few of the tracks I have in my iTunes library have a suitable BPM for running. D’oh!

As well as the desktop application (for both Mac and PC), there’s an iPhone app, Cadence app. This looks interesting but currently it doesn’t support multi-tasking. That means that I can’t use it running in the background whilst I track my run with Runkeeper. Humph! I’ve spoken with the developers and this should be sorted soon. However, my poor iTunes library is the issue here. Also, the app allows you to specify a small BPM range and therefore doesn’t really support interval training where intervals have different intensities (BPMs).

A few months back, I came across Audio Fuel. This is a UK based company that produce music compilations to match different intensities and training workouts. I decided to give them a try. As I’ve been wanting to run faster, I chose the Excelerator compilation and bought that.

Having paid, downloaded the MP3, added to my iTunes library and then created a playlist and sync’d my iPhone with iTunes, I was almost ready.

With Runkeeper set up to use the new playlist, I went out for a run.

The cadence was high as the BPM was between 165 and 170 bpm. I did struggle to keep up with that cadence as is evident in my Runkeeper stats.

Having been happy that the AudioFuel compilation could indeed help me run quicker, I decided to purchase another compilation; 2 in fact. One type of session I’ve neglected is interval training. Having browsed the AudioFuel site, I decided that the best option was the Mid intensity 180 bpm pyramid interval compilation. Having found the first compilation purchase to be very good, I decided to make use of the special offer to get the mid intensity compilation and the high intensity compilation too.

What I liked about the compilation most was the coaching. Throughout the activity, encouraging announcements were made of how what interval is coming next, how long it is and how much rest you’ll get after it til the next interval. Although the compilations are pretty short; 22 or 23 minutes, the intensity of them makes for a great workout.

I couldn’t really tell you much about the music as I was lost in the moment. Having said that, I wasn’t really thinking about the running either. The whole thing acted as a great distraction to the workout I was undertaking!

One thing I do plan to do is set up a training workout programme in Runkeeper to match the intervals from the Audio Fuel compilation so that I can see how my performance differs in each interval.

Overall, I’m really pleased with the AudioFuel compilations.

As regular readers will know, I love Runkeeper. I’d love for them and AudioFuel to collaborate. It would be great if when creating a training workout, you can associate each intensity with a playlist and for that playlist to contain tracks which match a particular BPM range. For example, for ‘slow’, I’d want tracks from the AudioFuel 150 – 160bpm playlist, for ‘steady’, I’d want tracks from the AudioFuel 160 – 170bpm playlist and for ‘fast’, I’d want tracks from the AudioFuel 170-190bpm playlist. Runkeeper would then randomly chose tracks that match the required BPM range and the interval duration.

Maybe Runkeeper and AudioFuel should talk! 🙂

If you’re a UK user of Runkeeper, you can get 20% discount from AudioFuel’s store by using the voucher code, runkeeper20. Thanks to AudioFuel for sharing that.

Problems with Runkeeper on iPhone 4 or iOS4?

Some users of the iPhone Runkeeper app on iOS4 (on IPhone 3G/3GS/4) seem to be struggling to get it working properly.

Here are some handy hints:

* app crashes on start – delete and reinstall app via iTunes

* not able to get GPS fix – check that you have Runkeeper enabled in Location Services (Settings>General>Location Services>Runkeeper), make sure Airplane mode is OFF, turn off Wifi

* poor performance when using app with multi-tasking – make sure any unnecessary apps running in background are closed (double tap home button, select app and hold until app icon jiggles, then tap X). There is an update in Apple’s approval queue which is going to improve multitasking on iPhone 3GS/4

* activity stats not uploaded to Runkeeper.com at end of activity – check that you have correct username/password combo

Hope they help.

Runkeeper Kronos – runkeeper’s new website

As promised, the final big release of the week isRunkeeper’s new website, Kronos.

This project has been under development for a couple of months and has been a main focus of the RK team for several weeks.

During that time, a few hints about what to expect have emerged from the team and having seen the fruits of the Runkeeper team’s labour, it’s not a disappointment.

The main feature of the new site is the new UI design. It’s cleaner, crisper and easier to use (mostly). In places, there’s a little too much whitespace but overall, the design is fresh and well thought out.

It’s clear that Tom Boates’ (Runkeeper’s Director of User Experience) has been busy making the design look attractive.

There are a couple of benefits of the new design:

– the site renders well on the iPhone
– the site renders well on the iPad

In fact, although I’ve not seen it, I’m sure the site looks stunning when viewed with an iPad.

One of the main criticisms of the previous site was that the use of a Flash graph for the speed/elevation chart meant that this key feature wasn’t accessible on iDevices. The Runkeeper team have resolved this long-standing gripe by changing this graphing element into a JavaScript alternative.

Another significant change is the Profile page which now presents a list of recent activities.

Runkeeper Profile page

The page has a very Facebook/Twitter feel to it. This has received a mixed response. However, in my view what we see on the screen today will become much more exciting with the inclusion of achievement and other posts such as:

– ‘just completed a sub-30 minute 10K’

– ‘completed 4 activities this week’

– ‘lost 9 lbs this month’

I also see the profile page being used to include ‘posts’ for:

– street team invites

– challenge requests (e.g. ‘Jason has challenged you to complete 4 activities in the next 7 days’)

– encouraging messages from fellow street team members

Much of the rest of the site is simply a refresh of the old site features. This isn’t a bad thing and hopefully the infrastructure of the new site will make the evolution of the site’s features easier to implement.

Kronos Activity Page

Kronos Speed/Pace/Elevation graph

The new site isn’t without a few flaws. On launch, there were a number of bugs and missing features.

These latter included:

– no distance markers on maps
– no start/end/pause/resume flags on maps
– no points shown when map editing making it difficult to edit the map

Some users are struggling to navigate the site. One key path is to be able to get back to the user’s profile page. This is done by selecting the username in the top right hand corner. Not immediately intuitive. Particularly when viewing the activities of another Street Team member.

One of the features that was expected in the Kronos release was greater control over data privacy (of activities, maps, routes etc). However, the Runkeeper team appear to have simply delivered the same level of privacy as the previous version of the website.

Also expected were more community features. Again, this doesn’t appear to have been included in the Kronos update.

It’s likely we’ll see updates in these features added sooner rather than later.

Runkeeper has introduced a new support mini-site.

Kronos Support Page

 This has resulted in the loss of many, many posts in the old support forums, many of which included great feature requests, non-Runkeeper advice between RK users about training, equipment and words of encouragement etc. Losing this wealth of information is a massive disappointment and, in my view, should be reconsidered.

Overall, the new Runkeeper website looks great but, in it’s first incarnation, doesn’t deliver many significant new features. This is very much like the version 2.0 version of the Runkeeper app where the focus was on improved usability rather than adding new features and the 2.1 update that focused more on improving the app’s underlying infrastructure.

It will certainly be interesting to see what new features are added in the coming weeks and months.

Runkeeper Pro 2.3 hands on

It’s the week for big releases. First, iOS4, then iPhone 4 and, then finally, the latest update to the Runkeeper Pro app.

The app reaches version 2.3 this week and the main feature is compatibility with iOS4 (including multitasking!). Many users of pre-release versions of the iPhone operating system have complained that the 2.2.X versions of Runkeeper don’t work with iOS. The Runkeeper team resolve this with the new release.

WARNING – Once you have installed iOS4, you will need to upgrade to RK 2.3 in order for the app to continue to operate properly.

This release also brings routes to the Pro app. If logged in, it’s possible to view a list of routes as defined at Runkeeper.com and then select one prior to commencing an activity.

List of routes

List of routes

Selected route with map and previous fastest times

Selected route with map and previous fastest times

The route is then presented on the activity map during the activity.

In addition, the 2.3 release makes sharing via Facebook and Twitter easier. Previously it was necessary to configure sharing settings via your account at Runkeeper.com. It’s now possible to do this directly within the app:

– via Facebook
– via Twitter

as shown below:

In app sharing settings

In app sharing settings

It’s also possible to set whether to share maps or whether to enable live tracking.

Finally, Runkeeper 2.3 enables users to add a post activity note once their activity is complete and for this note (or a truncated version) to form part of the activity stats post to Facebook/Twitter.

Post activity notes

Post activity notes

Overall, the update isn’t earth shattering. However, the Runkeeper team had to fix incompatibilities with iOS4 and have done this as well as add a couple of user-requested features.

The routes feature makes life a little easier in that it’s now possible to browse routes prior to an activity as well as automatically associating the selected route to the activity. However, for those hoping for one of the most requested features, ghost running, the app falls way short of providing this. It does prior the embryo for such a feature though and I, for one, hope we’ll see this in the next app version. With many competitor apps now providing ghost running in one form or another, Runkeeper must provide this to remain ahead of the pack.

One other thing that the inclusion of Routes shows is that Runkeeper are now supporting data syncing from your account at Runkeeper.com to your device. This should open up the opportunity for syncing back historic activities back to a ‘clean’ app install as well as the opportunity to manage training workout programmes online and have then sync’d back to the device. Hopefully these features are being considered.

In terms of improvements to the new features, here are a couple …

… For routes, the map needs to be larger so that the actual route can be seen properly. Also, the route description should be available along with the full route name.

For sharing, it should be possible to enable/disable the Facebook/Tweet associated with the start of a live tracked activity.

Other features that should be added include:

– target pace per interval
– shoe usage tracking

Today, many users will be eagerly awaiting the release of iPhone 4 with multi-tasking and improved GPS. Both features could make Runkeeper a real challenge to a GPS-enabled fitness device such as a Garmin 110/410 etc.

Also due for release in the next few days is Runkeeper’s new website nicknamed Kronos!

The Runkeeper team have announced that the Kronos website update should be available soon. Hopefully also this week.

Note that if you’re experiencing any problems with the latest RK update, it is recommended that you:

  • delete the app from your iPhone
  • delete the app from iTunes
  • reinstall the app via iTunes (you won’t need to pay again)
  • resync your iPhone with iTunes

Note that you’ll lose any activity history on the device but that’ll be safe in your account at Runkeeper.com

Challengers to the Runkeeper Pro app’s dominance in the fitness tracking app market

It should come as no surprise to readers of my blog that I love the iPhone app, Runkeeper Pro. This app goes with me each time I go out running and has helped track 300+ miles so far since I installed it in July 2009. I should add that other than being an avid user and a beta-tester for the app, I don’t get any kickback for being overly gushing about the app or anything else Runkeeper do!

However, I should admit to having a number of running-related apps on my iPhone including:

as shown on the screenshot below:

My iPhone running apps

However, the truth is that of these apps, a vast majority have never tracked a single run for me. That’s not to say they haven’t got some great features. But, for me at least, Runkeeper keeps delivering the features I need both within the app itself and within its website at Runkeeper.com.

Many of the apps listed above include some form of ghost running feature and this is what originally drew me to them.

For example, RaceYourPace automatically creates ‘routes’ and if you run them again will tell you how well you’re beating (or not) the previous run of that route. I’m confident that Runkeeper are working on a similar feature as I type this blog post though and I’m happy to wait for that (particularly given the recent addition of ‘Routes’ on their online service) and an informal tweet/Facebook post stating that Routes would be coming to the Pro app soon.

I took Runmaster out for a walk earlier and found some features useful. These already exist on my Runkeeper new feature wishlist though and include:

  • other map modes including hybrid and satellite
  • remote control via iPhone earphone clicker

Runtastic have just released a PRO version of their app (Runtastic PRO) which could be a real threat to Runkeeper. It’s pretty functional and includes two key features that aren’t currently in the Runkeeper Pro app:

  • Workout challenges – compete a particular distance in a defined time, meet a particular pace target (available in Runkeeper Pro), complete a particular distance, run for a defined time or burn X calories
  • Competitions – challenge yourself or friends
  • in-app graphs of speed/elevation etc

However, it (and almost all of the apps above) fail to provide some of the key features Runkeeper provides including:

  • training workouts – define interval based training workouts
  • breadth and depth of reporting available at Runkeeper.com and with FitnessReports
  • other cool features such as ‘Runkeeper Live’ (Tracking)

Of course, Runkeeper is only available on the iPhone platform at the time of writing. Google’s Android platform is becoming more popular and dominance could come from Runtastic and others providing apps for Android mobile devices, Blackberry etc. Runkeeper, however, are actively developing an Android version of Runkeeper which I suspect will be available in days rather than weeks. They are also looking for mobile developers with Blackberry development experience.

Runtastic are EU based and offer multi-lingual support (something Runkeeper hasn’t provided to date – but should) and I suspect that the number of active users is far below that of the US-based Runkeeper. This is apparent from their Tracks Map.

As detailed in other posts, the Runkeeper app isn’t perfect in my eyes yet and I’ve a list of new features I’d love to be added to it to make it closer to my idea of perfection!  However, I’m confident (based on past experience) that the team will continue to dominate the market of fitness tracking apps and having competition from the likes of Runtastic won’t allow them to rest on their laurels!

Just some of the features I’d love to see in Runkeeper Pro App

I spend a lot of time using (and thinking about) the Runkeeper Pro app and have a wishlist of features I’d love to be added.

Like many users, I’ve been using the app for several months and during that time have seen an array of new features being added in several releases. I’m sure there are far more great features to come. However, if I were able to influence the team, this would be my wishlist:

New activity

  • improved presentation of GPS signal strength indicator – bars rather than circle would be my preference. Also, some textual indication of status underneath the start button would be great.
  • cadence setting and associated beep – good for Chi-runners. Beep indicator could also be tone to indicate GPS signal strength
  • auto-pause/resume activity
  • audio countdown – as soon as I lock my iPhone’s screen, I don’t know how long I’ve got to wait!
  • configurable countdown time (10, 15, 20, 30 seconds) with ability to pause or cancel countdown
  • be able to lock map so that swipe can be used to move between all activity screens
  • fullscreen map with ability to view map, satellite and hybrid views
  • ability to use target pace and training workouts at same time
  • be able to set target pace threshold so that if I’m 10% below target pace for 15 seconds raise an alarm
  • be able to choose a team mate (or team mates!) running same activity/race and be able to hear comparative stats (you are ahead of John by 120 metres, your average pace is 32 seconds per minute ahead of John’s etc)
  • be able to set a target distance and time and for RK to provide time/distance remaining indication
  • be able to select a pre-defined route and have stats based on how I’m performing compared to previous runs of that route

Playlists

  • ability to choose albums, podcasts, audiobooks etc
  • ability to choose to either lower volume of audio during announcements or pause (for audiobooks)

Training Workouts

  • ability to define additional interval types (other than slow, steady, fast)
  • ability to define target pace per interval
  • have folder-type structure for better presentation of longer training workout programmes, e.g.

             Half marathon > Week 1 > Day 1

            Half marathon > Week 1 > Day 2

            etc

  • inclusion of ‘workout completed’ tick next to training workouts
  • ability to purchase workout programmes via ‘in app purchase’, e.g. C25K, etc – fully appreciate that it’s easy to add a workout but this would make life even easier and give extra revenue to Runkeeper
  • be able to repeat selected intervals within a training workout
  • be able to set up schedule for workout programme using calendar and for RK to automatically choose the right workout programme based on date (easy to override if necessary)

Activities

  • present average pace for each activity in activities list
  • provide calendar view of activities as well as the list
  • if target pace set, be able to see which bars in pace/speed chart were ahead/behind/on target pace (colour coded?)

General

  • be able to start/pause/resume/stop activity remotely (e.g. via iPhone earphone clicker)

I have lots more ideas but those are the ones that spring to mind with regards to RK Pro app functionality.