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

iSmoothRun: Lapping RunKeeper in the Race for Best Running App

I have been a RunKeeper user basically since I started running regularly back in 2009. I would go so far as to credit the app with helping me go from being winded after a mile to completing 13 marathons and over a hundred other races within the last seven years. But lately things have been going wrong. Very wrong. Every update has been worse than the last. I submitted tickets, I hoped that things would get better, but it got me nowhere. The app crashes more often than it works, the watch app is useless, and the whole experience with the platform has become a big bloated mess. Unfortunately, in light of RunKeeper’s sale to ASICS, it appears to be yet another tech startup being destroyed by its own success.

This all reminded me of a running app I downloaded forever ago but gave little thought to over the years, iSmoothRun. After a month of using it instead of RunKeeper, I have no intention to switch back. This app now occupies the space on my home screen that RunKeeper has had for seven years. With this new app in hand, I can continue to use RunKeeper’s backend service for now as it still functions well enough, but am no longer locked into their increasingly buggy iPhone app.

First of all, the most important feature of iSmoothRun is that it is stable. You would think this is an obvious feature, but somehow it seems to get missed amongst the third or fourth rebranding. I have not had it crash on me yet. Not once. It is not my idea of a good run when I have to stop to take my phone out and troubleshoot why an app is no longer working. iSmoothRun gives me the peace of mind that this won’t happen.

iSmoothRun is easily the most customizable app I have ever used. Not just running app, any app. The device’s main display during a run is completely under your control. Want to see average pace instead of current pace? No problem. Or show both, or neither. There are 11 spaces on the main screen for different stats and none are locked in. If, for some reason, you didn’t want to see time and distance, you can swap them for something else. Pretty much every stat you could imagine is available to you here. The same goes for the Apple Watch display. You pick the stats that are important to you.

iSmoothRun dashboard setup
The setup screen for the dashboard displayed when tracking a run. Every single section is editable.

Perhaps the most important reason I am switching to iSmoothRun is its integration with other services. Pretty much every other running app available is all about getting you locked into their system. So while they may offer some import and export capability, it is never straightforward or simple. iSmoothRun has 16 different integrated services (not counting Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, or email) and you are free to use as many or as few as you wish. RunKeeper is one of the services and iSmoothRun has virtually 100% compatibility with it. Looking at runs tracked side by side it would be impossible to tell which app was used. It is that good. But because of the extra possibilities I have started exploring additional services. Strava looks to be the most interesting of the group so far. By signing in and enabling export on save, my run is automatically sent to every account I have chosen. No more lock in, no more requesting downloads of my data. This alone is worth switching for, stability aside.

iSmoothRun supported accounts
Supported accounts. The full list does not fit in a single screenshot!

It should also be noted that if you prefer to stay offline, that is fine too. iSmoothRun does not require you to connect to any service, giving you a completely private running log.

There are a few minor issues with iSmoothRun. Currently, the Apple Watch app cannot actually save a run, which means that it does not reflect in the Workout section of the Activity app. The workaround here is to also start the built in Workout app on the watch, but having to enable two apps is not ideal. The developer has stated that this capability has been developed, so hopefully we see it soon. Also, the Watch app does not do a great job of heart rate monitoring, but this looks to be more a watch limitation. A dedicated chest strap for heart rate is a good purchase if you care about that sort of thing (the Wahoo TICKR works very well for me).

iSmoothRun is one of the few paid-up-front, independently developed fitness apps left in the App Store. It is a travesty what the activewear companies who purchased the rest have done to those products. It is clear that they have absolutely no respect for the users. It’s all about branding and marketing, and the products have suffered dearly for it. iSmoothRun is a breath of fresh air. An app that cares about the user experience, that respects you and your data, and that works exactly as promised every time. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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.

An Open Letter to RunKeeper: Quality over Brand

Dear RunKeeper,

I wasn’t really a runner until I met you. In 2009 I could barely make two miles. My early runs tracked with your software are laughable compared to what I can do now. Twelve marathons and nearly 5000 miles later I caught the bug, and you helped me get there.

Back when the app was $10 I bought it gladly. When you introduced a subscription I joined immediately, and have been a member ever since. You have been on my home screen for nearly the entire time I have owned the iPhone.

But lately things have not been great. I feel your quality slipping, and even more concerning to me is that your focus, at least from an outside perspective, seems to have strayed from what is most important. Your own marketing of your brand has become all consuming, far more important that the product itself.

For a month it seemed that all you were focused on was the logo. There was an entire release in the App Store whose release notes talked about branding and nothing else. This is a very worrying sign from a tech company. Like with another favorite of mine falling on hard times, Evernote, it signals a move away from caring about the core product. See also Twitter.

Meanwhile the app has gotten extremely buggy. I have lost runs due to the app crashing on upload, taking my data with it. My husband has given up using it entirely as the GPS data has been wildly inaccurate lately. But worst of all the Apple Watch app took my day one move streak and deleted it on the day of the New York City Marathon. Your user base is made up of fitness fanatics. This kind of data destruction is going to be unacceptable to them. Even if this was an iOS issue and out of your control, you have the email addresses of all your users. We should have been warned. But it seems the brand was more important than the users.

I am not leaving yet but I will be exporting all my data into preparation to do so. I am hoping you can turn this around.
1. Stop rebranding. You are good. We are happy with the look. Get back to the product.
2. Communicate with your users. If there are bugs, especially ones that can result in data loss, we need to know.
3. Focus on reliability. No one wants to use an app that fails as often as it succeeds.
4. Get back to being about running and the runners who love it. The bright lights of Silicon Valley and its destructive culture of funding are the sirens that lead so many innovators to their deaths upon the rocks.
5. You don’t need to be the biggest run tracking app in the world, you need to be the best.

I want to stay with you RunKeeper I really do. I want to go back to the days when you were a small startup with a little app that just worked. No getting caught up in side projects (Breeze). No talk of the brand. I hate that word. That word is where you go when you are out of ideas. It is the word you use when the marketers and investors are running the show. Do not let his happen. Get back on course.

DST Strikes Again: Loss of Marathon Apple Watch Activity

UPDATE: The cause of the data loss is RunKeeper. The Apple Watch currently subtracts from your move goal rather than add to it. Do Not use RunKeeper for Apple Watch.

Daylight Saving Time sucks. No matter what BS reason you believe for it existing (conserving energy, farming, school buses), twice a year we all get to stress out, miss appointments, have our biological clocks messed with, and increasingly see software issues due to programming not able to handle the switch.

On November 1st I ran the New York City Marathon. It was my third time running the NYC race, and my first with the Apple Watch. But you would not know it from looking at my Activity data. A bug in the app is causing it to crash when attempting to view data from that day. That would be bad enough, but to make it worse, the app no longer recognizes that I met my goal that day, while in reality I met it five times over.

Activity ring not closed despite marathon.
That ring should have been closed 5 times over.

Apple has had some notorious DST related bugs in the past. But one would have thought that their device whose main purpose is to tell time would have done better. Numerous posts on Apple’s discussion page says that this is widespread, and definitely a DST problem.

I know it seems trivial, and ultimately it is, but this bug has really had a dramatic effect on how I feel about the watch. My enthusiasm has been completely zapped. I was really proud of the fact that I had an unbroken activity streak that went back to the very first day. And now, through no fault of my own and despite literally my best effort, it’s all gone. I am back to the beginning.

If Apple is going to make fitness tracking a headline feature of this device then it has to work and it has to work perfectly. To Tim Cook, I know you really care about CSAT.[1] Consider me unSAT today.

Note: I filed a bug report with Apple on this one. rdar://23374091


  1. Customer Satisfaction for those who don’t speak corporatese.  ↩

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.

HealthKit Improves Dramatically with iOS 8.2

I have been vocal in both my love of the concept of HealthKit and the desire to see it succeed, as well as its bugs and issues. I am very happy to report that reliability has improved dramatically with iOS 8.2. No longer do I see empty data or extremely slow updates when opening the Health app. HealthKit connected apps such as Jawbone UP now reliably pull data every time. If you are a Health user, this is an update you will definitely want. I was a little afraid that Health would be one of those apps that goes years with bugs unfixed. I’m glad to see this is not the case.