I like running. I like software. And when they come together in the form of running software you have my attention. It’s also fair to point out that due to both a short attention span and a business interest in knowing the playing field I tend to switch appsmore often than most. So without going to great length I thought I’d compare two valid competitors quickly with the hope that there might be some reaction to these views (and by reaction I do hope it to be constructive conversation). The two competitors I’ll be looking at are RunKeeper and DigiFit’s iRunner.
I’ll start by saying that everything here is my opinion but I will back that up by saying I’m a big fan of my point of view. Now to the facts (I mean opinions). Most of you probably know of RunKeeper, they are the king of the mountain when it comes to running software. They’ve been around for donkey years and have gotten a lot of publicity recently due to their successful fund raising and ambitious plans to be an all around data platform. RunKeeper is the big guy on the block; Endomondo is second and then there are the rest.
Within the ranks of “the other” is DigiFit’s offering which is not a Johnny-come-lately but rather was born out of a multi-year affair with providing ANT+ devices a way to talk to the iPhone. With this starting point it made sense to have a way to have an interface with the consumer rather than provide just a hardware bridge between the iPhone and ANT+. This allowed them to play higher up the value stack and at the same time gave them a little independence from the ANT+ as their sole claim to fame. This latter point is particularly relevant right now as the industry starts to move away from ANT to Bluetooth 4.0 (although the ANT+ data structures may still remain a valid foundation for a standard).
Both apps are similar in many ways. Both track your running when out on the road/trail/etc. Both provide GPS coordinates on a map interface. Both have support for heart rate monitors, present metrics like pace, elevation, distance, etc. and also have cloud storage of your run data and allow you to analyse your run afterward. This might all be obvious and you’d be right to call this “table stakes” for any modern running application. So let’s break them apart and talk about their individual characteristics:
RunKeeper is polished. It’s shiny. The UI is well thought out. It is also simple to use and focused on core features but not features for features sake. There are many parallels to the loveliness of it all and Apple’s loveliness in OS design. RunKeeper’s captured an audience based on publicity, targeted marketing, but also with a reasonably good product. As an example, one thing I always liked about RunKeeper’s app was it didn’t provide music controls. That doesn’t mean music and running don’t go together — they do for me — but the iPhone already has an application for that and switching to it when you need to isn’t hard. I guess my need is somewhat diminished too because I can skip tracks on my wireless headset without ever touching the phone. In contrast, Endomondo did provide music support but I found cumbersome and actually go in the way of my integrated experience. I think they may have made it better so let’s ignore that small snipe.
On the analysis side, the reports have seemed a bit rough around the edges but they’re getting better. They are also starting to benefit from RunKeeper’s integration strategy as it’s able to integrate automatically with my FitBit, Zeo Sleep Monitor (which I’m not using at the moment), and the Withings scale. Also important, you can export your run data to GPX or Google Earth formats which is important for me so that I can move my data to another running software provider if I so chose to. I have moved GPX data to and from RunKeeper and Endomondo before and it worked ok. There were some differences I wasn’t able to explain but most of the macro data moved across well enough.
So in summary. RunKeeper is polished yet simple; it does what it says on the tin and in doing so it serves a broad audience well.
I think I must have installed iRunner almost a year ago. I also downloaded iCardio, iBiker, iSpin, etc. at the same time. Does DigiFit have a ton of software applications for the iPhone? Not really … more like tons of names. Open any of these independent apps and you’ll find they are all roughly the same (they might be completely the same except that you have re-register each time). This annoyed me and I immediately put the app away in the storage bin of old apps that — at least on my iPhone — is quite large. This comparison would have been quite short were it not for a random “update” that they put out a month ago or so. It’s not that it was a major update but it reminded me that maybe my first impression had been a bit unfair and I decided to take it out for a spin (well “run” actually).
My first impression was something like, “it doesn’t look as cool as RunKeeper”. Not as shiny. Immediately after that my next impression was “wow this has a lot more functionality” which was then followed by “I like this new functionality”. The biggest thing for me is trying to not only be aware of my heart rate while running but actually running in targeted hear rate zones. This is an area where iRunner definitely has a leg up. It not only has a dashboard dedicated to heart rate but will provide verbal queuing when you move from zone to zone (which is critical for cold days when the phone is tucked away in a pocket). In addition I thought the movement between dashboards (swipe left, swipe right) was executed perfectly where RunKeeper sometimes started sliding elements on the screen rather than the screen/dashboard itself.
What about music? I knew you’d ask … iRunner does provide integrated music controls. I don’t feel I need them (as I’ve stated above) but I’ve actually been ok with them so far on iRunner. The next/back buttons are little smaller than they should be and it does try to impose you listening to a playlist rather than some other grouping (artist, album, or just “everything”) but that’s probably ok for most folks.
DigiFit’s also has some integration. Their “health partners” include FitBit, New Leaf, TrainingPeaks, Withings, and Zeo. The more integration the better and in this category RunKeeper wins. Of these weaknesses the one I find most surprising is the lack of a file import for GPX data. This means if you’ve been tracking on a competing product then you need to start over. Not too smart. As well as this oversight the less excusable weakness is the export functionality. When you go to the website the ability to export data appears to only be supported as a CSV export format. This is pretty much useless as it is not standardised and therefore you cant’ import it into anything! Well surprise upon surprise. When you press the very little icon that is the export button it emails you a series of links and guess what? It supports CSV, GPX, and TCX. If I remember correctly GPX is the most useful but I believe RunKeeper does both as well. That’s a mild relief but the way DigiFit hides this away would worry me that this feature may be pulled at some future date. If that were the case it would be a non-starter for me but some others who are less commitment phobic might be ok with it.
In summary, iRunner has been a very pleasant surprise and is more advanced and configurable in what you can do especially with it’s heart rate support. No it isn’t as pretty as RunKeeper but it’s a valid competitor and for more sophisticated and technical runners RunKeeper might be a little to simple. That said, the hidden support for GPX support is a big issue for me and RunKeepers improving integration (which is likely to continue to get better) put me at a loss on how to best proceed.