Run app updates: News on the Nike+, Runkeeper, and Runmeter fronts

I admit it. I've always thought that the Nike+ shoe sensor thing was kind of lame. Even though I actually do own the right shoes, I never thought it worth while to pick up the optional pedometer sensor just so I could take advantage of the built-in iPhone feature.

I know that there are people out there who really loved using the Nike+ features on their iPhone but I've much preferred using other tracking apps and skipping the shoe tie-in.

Now, several years after GPS debuted on the iPhone 3G, Nike has finally made the move to shoe-less positioning. For $1.99, you can pick up a copy of Nike+ GPS. The reviews on the iTunes site have been generally positive, but it's clear that this is a slick yet limited application.

There's not a lot of flexibility for multiple exercise modalities (like biking or cross country skiing) and you don't get the badzillions of statistics that apps like Runkeeper ($9.99) or Runmeter ($4.99) offer. The app does, however, integrate with and it does offer motivational messages, so you can "celebrate your victories with... messages from Nike's top athletes". I wonder if they got Lady Gaga in on that.

Runkeeper has responded to the Nike+ GPS introduction on its blog, basically confirming that they're going to remain independent and pointing out that apps from big names like Nike, New Balance and Adidas focus more on the product integration than on the running.

"All of you big guys jumping in with major marketing budgets, you are doing this as a brand play," writes Runkeeper CEO Jason Jacobs. "We are not. You are doing this to try to ultimately sell more people your footwear/apparel. We are not. You are big and slow moving. We are not."

Although I'm not a big Runkeeper user myself, it has a huge, enthusiastic, and evangelical user base who adore the product, its website, and the community that has grown up around using it. Runkeeper helps you tune your running, and focuses on training improvements.

Abvio's Runmeter
, another well respected tracking app is my personal go-to app for my bike rides and walks. Although it offers many tuning features, it provides a host of "just track me as I go and let me monitor my trips" features that I find friendlier to use on a day-to-day basis.

Abvio's CEO, Steve Kusmer contacted me this morning about the app's new idle detection features that just went live in App Store, and I cornered him regarding the Nike+ debut.

"I just downloaded it yesterday on a train back from visiting my brother in law," he told me. "It's a very nicely designed application, with a minimal feature set." In a follow-up e-mail, he added that he believes that athletes looking for advanced capabilities will continue to prefer Runmeter, which includes ghost running, automatic stop detection, calendar sharing, text-to-speech spoken replies from Twitter and Facebook, and more. I'm not an athlete by any stretch of the definition but I still appreciate Runmeter's features.

As for Runmeter's new update, it's all about idle detection. "We were getting three or four people asking for it every day, and it was pretty clear to us to prioritize that we wanted that capability. People are accustomed to it in Garmin watches, and it was a must-have for our application." Kusmer explained that the technology behind the update sounds deceptively simple. "A lot of what we're doing inside the app is dealing with a lot of false positives."

So what happens when you stop running? "The application figures that out, and it rolls back the elapsed time, so your statistics aren't affected." He does warn that going inside buildings can mess with GPS signals, so stopping at corners and street lights is going to work more accurately than stopping at Chick Fil-A for a quick meal. "If you're going to have lunch, you probably stop the app manually."

Tracking apps address a big (and still growing) niche market that provides a perfect match between the iPhone's GPS, its small portable physical dimensions, and the way a lot of people integrate their phone into their active lives. Nike+ offers a solid, affordable ($1.99) entry-level app with a slick GUI. It may not yet meet the needs of serious walkers, hikers, runners, and bikers but it will surely appeal to a large new audience of casual trackers.

Runkeeper's Jacobs writes, "We have a slew of announcements coming that we think will catch a lot of people who have been underestimating us by surprise."

Abvio's Kusmer adds, "Game on, Nike!"