Nike + GPS vs Runkeeper Pro – my view

This week, a new GPS running app hit the App Store. Nike + GPS. Although a big Runkeeper fan, I downloaded the app to my iPhone to give it a try. (I have downloaded almost all running apps over the last 18 months).

Prior to the app’s arrival, Nike + required a Nike foot pod to be purchased which interacted with various Apple devices. For purchasers of that foot pod with iPhones (running iOS 4 and above), that device is no longer required. Nor is the wrist worn ‘watch’. Nike + GPS doesn’t interface with either and also is a separate app from the original Nike + app.

First impressions are that Nike + GPS has a nice clean, easy to use UI but lacks many of the features runners are demanding from their running apps.

What I like about Nike + GPS:

– simple UI
– challenges
– motivational messages
– pace indication on map
– power song
– it’s cheap (but free would have been better)

However, here are the reasons why I won’t be running with Nike + GPS (or any other running app) and will continue to run with Runkeeper Pro:

– Nike’s power song feature is good but relies on users having app open on screen to select it. When running, I have my iPhone locked and don’t want to fiddle with the screen.

Nike’s pace indication on the map is useful but I prefer looking at speed/elevation information post run in the Runkeeper.com environment.

– Runkeeper Pro provides training workouts which I use in most training sessions. Training workout support has been neglected in v1 of Nike’s app

– Runkeeper Pro allows users to set a target pace and provides an indication of whether you’re ahead or behind pace. Nike + GPS doesn’t provide this feature.

– Runkeeper allows me to track lots of different types of activities and not just running.

– Runkeeper allows shuffling of playlists. Nike’s app doesn’t.

– Rarely used by myself but useful to many non-runners using the app, Runkeeper pro has in-app camera feature.

– Runkeeper has been providing GPS-enabled run tracking apps since GPS became available on the iPhone and have evolved their product over many updates by listening and reacting to user feedback. Runkeeper has a user-base of over 2 million of whom over 50% still actively use the app. They interact with these users continuously via both one-to-one an one-to-many dialogue via Facebook, Twitter (@runkeeper) and their support website (http://support.runkeeper.com).

Although I can’t be definite, I’m sure that Nike won’t be as reactive to user feedback and feature requests.

As detailed in previous posts, Runkeeper isn’t perfect and it’s true that other apps provide some of the features I crave.

However, although I feel Nike + GPS might fit the requirements of many who want a simple app to accompany them whilst running, many others will find that it’s got a nice paint job but there’s not much under the bonnet. Even with Runkeeper’s few missing features, it still includes the features that make it invaluable to me (training workouts, target pace etc).

One other benefit of Runkeeper is that their app is available for Android as well as iPhone devices.

Of course, the side effect of Nike’s arrival is that some iPhone users will now be aware that there are running apps available. This is great news for app developers such as Runkeeper who will get lots of app comparison PR.

Resolving iPhone GPS issues

Some runkeeper users experience regular or intermittent problems getting a decent GPS fix. There are a number of reasons for this normally and this post will try to explain them and the possible resolutions.

Firstly, the iphone’s GPS receiver isn’t the best or most reliable. This is the common denominator of most of the GPS related issues that Runkeeper (and other tracking app) users face.

Due to the quality of the GPS on the iPhone, the tracking capability can easily be affected by:

– adverse weather (cloud, rain etc)
– tall trees and buildings blocking the signal from the satellites
– strong interference

Ideal conditions for the best GPS coverage are:

– clear sky
– no trees or buildings
– clear line of sight to sky

It’s often easy to think you have a decent GPS signal but more often than not, due to the fact that the iPhone uses ‘assisted GPS’, when the iPhone is giving poor locational position, it’s due to the iPhone compensating for a bad GPS reception by estimating position by using either triangulation using mobile network signal or local WiFi ‘hotspots’.

Herebare my hints and tips for making sure Runkeeper captures an accurate route:

(a) Make sure Airplane mode is off – The iPhone’s GPS is turned off is you have ‘Airplane mode’ set to on. Make sure it’s off.

(c) Turn off WiFi – Due to triangulation, turn off WiFi when you’re about to commence an activity.

(d) Make sure the iPhone has a clear line of sight to the sky – this means making sure that the signal isn’t obscured by clothing or other material, e.g. when placed in a pocket. For beat operation, use an armband.

(e) Be patient – The iPhone can take 30 seconds or more to get a GPS fix. Prior to commencing a run with Runkeeper, keep this in mind. To give the iPhone time to get a decent fix, I’ll often open up Google Maps and check how big the blue circle is. If the iPhone hasn’t captured GPS for a while, you’ll notice that at first, there is a large circle with a blue dot at the centre of it and that the outer circle gradually gets smaller and smaller until you see just the blue dot. This gradual improvement over up to 2 minutes is caused by the iPhone gradually picking up the signal from several GPS satellites. You only have a good GPS signal once you see a blue dot with no outer circle.

This tip serves a number of purposes:

– it gives the iPhone time to lock on a decent GPS signal

– it gives you a clear indication of the quality of the signal and the iPhone’s best guess at your location

Once the iPhone has a decent GPS lock, open up Runkeeper.

(f) Only start your activity once Runkeeper has a green GPS indicator -if the GPS indicator is yellow or red, your positional information is too inaccurate and this will adversely affect your activity stats.

(g) Reset Location Warnings – for some reason, resetting location warnings can resolve GPS related issues. If you’re experiencing problems, give this a try.

(h) Reset your iPhone – due to the complexity of the iPhone and the apps that run on it, memory can become corrupt or memory leaks can occur (this is my understanding). This can lead to unexpected iPhone behaviour such as poor GPS operation. My advice is to regularly reset your iPhone by simultaneously holding down the top lock button and the ‘home’ button until you see the white Apple symbol. Wait until the iPhone reboots.

(i) try a different GPS tracking app – to highlight the fact that the issue isn’t related to Runkeeper, try a different free GPS tracking app such as Motion X.

(j) Delete and reinstall the app – if you experience GPS issues after upgrading Runkeeper, delete the app from the iPhone and iTunes and then reinstall from iTunes. It is believed that some users experience corrupt upgrade installations which cause unexpected behaviour with certain Runkeeper features. Please note that:

– deleting the app will result in the loss of activity history on your iPhone. However, the activity history is still safe on the Runkeeper website. You’ll also lose any training workouts you’ve defined.

If you are still experiencing GPS related problems after following all of these tips an you are unable to get a decent GPS fix in Google Maps, Runkeeper and/or other GPS tracking apps, take your iPhone to an Apple store so that they can investigate.

This morning’s run

This morning I set off early with every intention of running for 5 miles. As it turned out, I ended up running 2 miles more; 7 miles in total! According to my Runkeeper stats, this is the furthest I’ve ever run. Pretty chuffed about that!!

It was a little tough as I wanted a sub-10 minute mile pace and for the first half, I was achieving this. However, I lost momentum a bit in the middle of the run and struggled to keep up the pace. Fortunately, for the last mile or so, I dug a little deeper and managed to improve the pace again.

Overall pace slightly over 10 mins per mile. Pleased with that given the distance.