RunKeeper is an iPhone app that uses the built in GPS in an iPhone with GPS (that’s currently a 3, 3GS, 4 , 4S  or 5 model) to accurately track your movements over time. I say it that way because it isn’t simply useful for running- it can track lots of motion based activities, although it’s strength is with running and walking activities.

It has spoken feedback, so you can set it to read out your stats at regular intervals, tell you if you are ahead or behind target, and won’t snigger if you stop for a drink…… It also has a number of training programs that you can buy, however my wife bought a 10km program and had various troubles with it, and found it not suitable to her situation.

The list of features is very impressive, and you can also set it to post your runs to social media sites, and automatically upload to the RunKeeper site where you can track your progress, compare runs and work those stats!  Sometimes my FaceBook friends had commented on my runs even before I’d made it home! An upgrade to RunKeeper Elite ($20 per year) allows people to track you live via the web, which is extremely cool. Another cool feature is the integration with other devices- you can get RunKeeper to collect data from a heart rate monitor if you add the Wahoo Ant+ dongle to your iPhone. Oh yeah you say, but doesn’t the iPhone have bluetooth? Yes but it turns out that Apple restricts access to the bluetooth to only a few classes of device, like keyboards and earpieces, forcing RunKeeper (and others) to work around this limitation. It’s stupid, but probably to protect the stability of the platform- who knows what damage a rogue bluetooth device could wreak? The Android version of RunKeeper does not have this limitation. Update- you can now buy a bluetooth heart rate monitor that does not require a dongle on your phone here

I used RunKeeper for about 9 months and in that time I variously loved and hated it. First of all it wouldn’t work accurately (this turned out to be the carbon fibre case I had the iPhone in) then it would crash during long runs, it would provide feedback even when the voices were turned off, settings wouldn’t stick and it became unusable. When I did the Six Foot Track Marathon in March 2011 RunKeeper stopped at the 13km mark, and a few people who were tracking my progress on the web thought I’d given up! Luckily all of those bugs appear to be fixed in the latest version but it also brought to the fore another problem- RunKeeper hates their users. At least that’s the only conclusion I could come to when I had a look at the user forums and found that lots of people were reporting the same bugs, and yet the coders were strangely silent. One of these bugs went unfixed for several months and the only way I could get acknowledgement that the developers knew about it was by sending a personal plea- very unprofessional. One email I received explained that they had ‘millions of users’ as if that was a reason not to fix the bugs. Hint to developers- if you acknowledge a problem on a user forum you might not have to personally reply to ‘millions of users’- which do you think is a better use of your time?

I’ve gone and bought a $499 Garmin ForeRunner 610 now, which does much the same job. I simply couldn’t stand being at the mercy of developers that didn’t care, plus a few other reasons

1. to see your stats with RunKeeper you either have to unlock your phone or get it to read them out, now I just have to look at a watch

2. RunKeeper kills the battery in my iPhone 3GS in about 3.5 hours. I often do longer events and the watch will last up to 8 hours

3. Many of my running outfits don’t have space to fit my iPhone!

Now despite all of the problems I’ve mentioned here it is now turning into a really good product. Especially now that it’s free (I paid $12). I really do feel that if you’re aware of the shortcomings, there isn’t a better app to help you organise your fitness life, especially if you’re just starting out. A special mention goes out to MapMyRun which is also free (or ad free for $1.99 if you buy the + version). MapMyRun is great because you can search for runs on their website that others have plotted for you, and they have a huge database. Have a look here to see! It also has another neat feature- you can get MapMyRun to email a link to your phone, and if you click the link it will load the route into the software so you can get directions. It’s not turn by turn navigation, more so you can follow an off road trail.

PS- I’ve now bought another Garmin watch, the 910XT. I know this sounds ridiculous but the 8 hour battery life on the 610 wasn’t enough! I’ve now done The North Face 100 twice, first time took me 18:41, second one 16:34, so it was nice having a watch with a 20 hour battery life ….. the 610 is now adorning my wife’s wrist. Although she got a new one because my 610 was replaced under warranty due to a rust/ oxidation issue.

Adam is a 20+ year veteran of the Apple market. He is one of the most highly qualified Apple technical specialists in Australia. You can read more about him here or check out his Google+ profile- Adam Connor