RunGap is the Perfect iOS 11 Fitness App

Last year when watchOS 3 launched, I wrote about it and iOS 10 in terms of fitness. The watch update especially was clearly designed to primarily push the device from a general purpose wrist computer to being a specialized fitness tracker, with some other functionality along for the ride.

This year’s releases of watchOS 4 and iOS 11 are not as fitness focused. But there is one change that made a dramatic difference for me, and I imagine for other Watch Series 2 owners. When the Series 2 watch with GPS was unveiled I thought that it would be the perfect run tracking device. And it was so close. But there was a major issue if you used the Apple workout app to track your runs. The maps were trapped inside the Activity app. There was no way to export that data to RunKeeper, Strava, or even a standard GPX file.

iOS 11 changes this. HealthKit now has the ability to store and export GPS data, and third party apps can take advantage of this. And one app to support this feature on day one was RunGap. I have previously used RunGap to sync up RunKeeper data to Strava and a few other running services. This is mainly due to the fact that RunKeeper has been an unreliable service as of late. Their watch app in particular would crash on my constantly. And as much as I previously recommended iSmoothRun, it has been very slow to update and the watch app leaves much to be desired.

An example of a run map stored inside the Health app.
An example of a run map stored inside the Health app.

The built in Workout app on the watch, however, is rock solid. It has become my preferred tool for tracking runs. And now with RunGap, I can still send that workout data to the other services I use. It is the best of both worlds. If you want to use the workout app on your Apple Watch but the previous limitation on data exporting prevented you from doing so, I highly recommend updating your operating systems, downloading RunGap, and giving it a try.

RunGap supports sharing workouts to many different services.
RunGap supports sharing workouts to many different services.

I have previously written about apps that respect you, and I have all the confidence that RunGap’s developers respect their users. I had an issue at one point and they replied to me within an hour. And that was on the weekend! Another sign of this respect for users is that while the app will read from Nike+, it won’t write to it. This is due to Nike’s lock in attempts. They have no easy way to export data. This kind of opinionated design in the app may stick some as restrictive, but it also shows that the developer has thought about user rights.

Aside from the iPad updates, this is my favorite new feature of iOS 11. Once again Apple has put out a solid update to their increasingly powerful fitness platform. RunGap is exactly the kind of app that every user of this platform should have in their arsenal.

A Fitness-Centric Review of watchOS 3 and iOS 10

It’s fair to say that the Apple Watch was released as a beta product. Then again it is fair to say that pretty much every first generation product is a beta product. When you think about it, all technology exists in a state of perpetual beta. Technology, to borrow from Walt Disney’s famous quote about his theme park, will never be completed.

Still, the Apple Watch felt different. Apple is normally great at telling you why a product exists. Think of the iPad, which was introduced by Steve Jobs sitting at a couch leaning back and consuming content.1 But the watch felt confused. Was it a fitness tracker, a wrist computer, a communication device? The first watchOS had no answer to this question. Nor did the follow up watchOS 2. It tried, but largely failed, to fix the performance problems that ended up dwarfing the confused messaging.

This time though, with watchOS 3, not only has the performance problem been addressed much more successfully, if imperfectly, but we now have an answer to why the Apple Watch. For everything else it can do, it is first and foremost a fitness device.

This is great news for me because that is the main reason I have used it ever since launch day. I have never missed a single day of closing all three activity rings. I have tried numerous run tracking apps, some more successful than others, and I even started using it while sleeping thanks to watchOS 2’s ability for sleep trackers to function.2

It is true that iOS 10 will touch far more people than watchOS 3. Smartphones, and to a much lesser extent tablets, dwarf the sales of smartwatches, which remain a niche, if growing category. But iOS has had the fitness bug too for a few years now. And when paired with watchOS 3, a very advanced health and wellness platform emerges.

This will be the focus of my review. I am not going to try to be exhaustive and cover every aspect of these updates. MacStories will do a far better job than I. This is about how I use the Apple Watch, and how that works with the iPhone. I will cover some of the more notable non-fitness features of iOS and watchOS later on, but first and foremost this is a fitness centric review.

I also should point out that this review is being posted a few days before the new Apple Watch Series 2 is available. I have preordered one and it should arrive Friday. The built in GPS function may well be a game changer. For now this review will not take this into consideration as it is too soon to know how this will actually play out. I’ll certainly have an update once I am able to use it for a while. Continue reading A Fitness-Centric Review of watchOS 3 and iOS 10

Apple Watch 365 Award (10 Days Early)

Yesterday I got the 365 day move goal award on the Apple Watch. Which would be very cool, if it had been the 365th day I met my goal. But my both my count and by the move streak award’s, it was only the 355th day. Not sure if this is a weird glitch that hit just me (perhaps related to my previous issues with my broken then repaired move goal) or if it is more widespread. Not seeing many reports elsewhere, then again you would need to have not missed a day since the watch’s release. That may be a small number.

Apple watch move goal award for 365 days.

The Apple Watch Needs Some Love

At this week’s Apple event, the Apple Watch got new bands and a $50 price drop. That was it. A software update came out later that day, but got no mention on stage at all. I have had my watch since day one, and if I were to get a survey today measuring my satisfaction with the product, I would have to place myself in the “unsatisfied” category. Yes, there are things that work fine, and there are features I am happy to have. But a large part of the promise of the watch, for me at least, is still falling flat almost a year later.

The biggest reason I use my watch is for fitness. Third party fitness apps were very limited in the first watchOS, but in the second gained, in theory, first class capabilities. Unfortunately none of the apps I have tried using have worked reliably. They either crash at best, or corrupt data at worst. I have had to stop so many runs to take my phone out and restart my fitness tracker there because of the watch’s instability. If the promise of the watch was to touch your phone less, it has failed here.

Even other apps and complications have not been a good experience. I think just about every Apple Watch owner has experienced opening an app, seeing the spinner turn for what feels like forever, and then giving up and taking out the phone app instead. Third party complications frequently do not update often enough to be useful. Even built in apps have difficulty syncing data with my phone. For example, I have an event in my calendar on the watch that I deleted weeks ago, but it refuses to sync to the watch, even as other events do. If I cannot rely on the information on the watch, I end up taking out the phone again.

From my own informal questioning of other watch users there seems to be a split. Many are perfectly happy with their watch. But I almost uniformly heard from these people that they are not using very much, if anything, beyond the built in functionality. That’s fine, but that isn’t how Apple sold this product, and it is not a good sign for it as a platform going forward. It seems like a lot of developers have abandoned their watch app entirely, as it has proven difficult, if not impossible to make it work well.

When the iPhone first came out, people would ask me about it and if it was worth getting one. Back then it was an enthusiastic “YES”, and I could easily launch into a 15 minute demo of all the reasons a person would really want one of these. I was hardly the only early adopter doing this, and within a few years virtually everyone was buying a smartphone of some kind. With the watch, my response has been much more muted. The best answer I can give is “I like it” and maybe I would show how it tracks my activity.

At this point I have uninstalled nearly all third party watch apps and will revert to the built in, base functionality for now. I think the best I can hope for is that Apple Watch 2 solves a lot of the issues of this first generation hardware. I am willing to accept that the first version of a new product will have its share of issues. But with watchOS, each release seems to be getting less stable than the one before. That isn’t good. I want to love the Apple Watch, I really do. But right now it feels more like we are merely tolerating each other.

Apple Watch At The Brooklyn Half Marathon

This past Saturday was the Brooklyn Half Marathon here in New York City. What was just a regular weekend race a few years ago has turned into one of the largest half marathons in the world with over 30,000 participants. For me, this year’s race was notable for being the first half marathon since I received my Apple Watch. It was the first real chance to put its fitness tracking to a true endurance test.

The first thing I noticed is that I did not see any other Apple Watches in the crowd. Now it is true that I did not see everyone who was running, not by a mile (or 13) but I did expect to see at least one or two others. I am not sure if this is due to it being so early in the launch window at this point or if perhaps fitness people are taking longer to warm to the device than I would have expected. Among the people I spoke to about it, the number one complaint was lack of GPS in the watch. It needs that for accuracy, which this group certainly cares about. But for now you still need to have your phone, and that may hinder its adoption this time around.

I did have my phone and I have to say it was so nice to be able to start and stop RunKeeper from my wrist. Manipulating the phone while in an armband is extremely annoying otherwise. I also started the exercise app due to the fact that RunKeeper cannot write to the first part Activity application. Still hoping a software update enables a single app in the future.

The Brooklyn Half provided three new data points for me. The first is the convenience of the watch during distance running. It is huge. I can quickly glance at accurate and up to date stats. I also was able to use the Overcast app to quickly change podcasts and cycle through my now playing list in ways that would have slowed me down in the past.

The second data point was rain. There was a brief downpour during the race. I got soaked, and spent not a small amount of effort moving my iPhone armband under my sleeve. But the watch I just kept on my wrist. I saw absolutely no issues with it despite getting completely drenched. The only problem was that tapping the screen was much more difficult when both it and my hands were wet.

The third was battery life. So far in day to day life I have not experienced issues with the battery. It is usually still at a good 40% at the end of even a long day. But fitness tracking uses more power. With that said, after nearly three total hours of travel, and almost two and a half hours of running, the battery was still above 50%. This was with full heart rate tracking enabled. I could have saved battery by disabling this function. I could see maybe doing that for a marathon, which could be cutting things a bit close. And something like an Ironman would definitely drain it well before the end. But otherwise for the vast majority of the physical activities most people do, there is battery to spare.

Early Thoughts on the Apple Watch

At some point I will do a full review of the Apple Watch, but since I only received it Friday, I cannot yet make fair judgements about it. What I can do, however, is give some initial impressions. I have several likes and dislikes with what I have experienced so far.

Like

Build quality is fantastic. It feels solid, yet light. The sport band feels much higher quality than you would expect, and it is extremely comfortable to wear.

Dislike

The setup process for me was actually not great. It did not want to turn on at first. On iPhone and iPad, holding either the lock or home button turns on the device, but on the watch only the side button does, not the digital crown. It is a little counterintuitive there. Also the automatic pairing did not work at all for me. The image never appeared on the watch. Not sure why. Lastly, what is with that terrible Apple logo when it is booting? It is an odd gradient and I seriously though I had a defective screen until it booted all the way. The iPhone app had an image that confirmed it is supposed to look like that.

Like

Notifications on the Apple Watch are far less intrusive than they were on my Pebble. Since the software is tightly integrated, I only get notifications in one place. If I see them on my phone, they don’t go to the watch. Otherwise the watch intercepts them. It feels less overwhelming. And the watch finally gets the “clear all” option we have wanted for years. And I love how it is smart about interactive notifications from iPhone. I can archive emails from Mailbox with a single tap, even though there is no Mailbox app for Watch yet. Actually, I don’t even think there has to be. The notifications work great for this.

Dislike

This is clearly version one of the OS, and it is still a little rough around the edges. Twice I had to reboot because haptic feedback stopped working, but it has been fine for two days now. Sometimes it gets confused when I raise my wrist and it cannot decide if it should be on or off. I suspect there will be several software updates over the next few months to address these issues.

Like

Force touch took a little getting used to but once you do it works great.

Dislike

I keep force touching my iPhone, which does nothing other than a long press. When force touch does come to the iPhone (can we all agree that this is pretty much a guarantee at this point) I can see there being some confusion between the two very similar gestures.

Like

The Activity app is very well done. It is bright, colorful, and displays data in a useful way. It has actually become my preferred activity app on my iPhone.

Dislike

My biggest gripe so far is with the Workout app. I have been a RunKeeper user for years and they have an app on the watch. But the Activity app, along with its achievements, only pulls data from the built in Workout app, not from third party apps. So if I want to have my activity still stored in RunKeeper as I always have (I do), and I want credit in the main Activity app (I do), I need to start two different apps for each activity. That is a bit of a pain. I really want to see third party apps be able to write data to the Activity app. If only Apple had a Kit for Health, or something like that. Also, third party apps can’t access heart rate info. That is probably a limitation we have to live with until true native apps become available.

Stray Observations

  • So far I have not experienced the same slowness in apps that many reviews mentioned. I have seen the loading screen a few times, but most apps load quickly enough. I have noticed they load faster when I am on WiFi, but that makes sense. I suspect lots of Watch app updates will be coming very soon purely to address real world performance.

  • Haptic is capable of very light touches. By comparison, the Pebble felt like a jackhammer on my wrist. I had to turn on the “Prominent Haptic” option since I was missing it so many times, which may be because I got so used to the Pebble.

  • Moving apps around is a pain. Trying to place one app in the spot you want is difficult, and has a cascade effect. I am never sure which way things will move.

  • Less is more with Glances.

  • I think that so far I have “settled” on nearly every watch face possible. I really like Mickey, but I wonder if that will kill the battery faster being the most colorful and animated of the bunch.

  • Speaking of battery, so far it has not died on me, though I do wonder if it will make it through a whole marathon since using the Workout app seems to drain it faster. I also intend to buy another charger for my bag for long days, just in case.

  • Digital touch is interesting. Will doesn’t get his until today. So far the only people I can send them to are my boss and my sister. I can’t see regularly sending my heartbeat to either of these people, particularly as one would likely lead to a conversation with HR about “boundaries”. It seems mostly for your significant other, but then does the feature warranty a whole dedicated button on the two button device?

  • I am surprised by how much I liked making a phone call from the watch. I would have though it would be a gimmick, but it actually felt more natural when I was sitting at home than I thought. Outside though, not so much.

Technecast 33: Is That You Apple Watch?

This week’s episode is available for download.

  • Jay loves him some Squarespace.
  • Something good about LinkedIn? No, ok.
  • Microsoft is making cool iPhone apps
  • Like to drink? Like cocktails? Studio Neat released a cool app.
  • Cool Robot building iOS app from Tinybop. Check them out.
  • Photos for OS X launched before the Apple Watch.
  • Wired shares the secret history of Apple Watch
  • Wired article on the Disney Magic Band
  • Apple Watch guided tours and early reviews are now online