A member of the TUAW team recently received an email from RunKeeper saying that RunKeeper Free will no longer be supported. At first glance that might seem like fairly bad news, but it now appears that RunKeeper Pro has been re-branded as just plain "RunKeeper." Contrary to earlier reports that the iOS app would be free only through January, RunKeeper's price has stayed at $0 since December 30.
RunKeeper arrived on the App Store in January 2009 at a price of US$9.99. The app always maintained a great deal of popularity even at its higher-than-average price, mostly because it's packed with well-thought-out features. RunKeeper is a cornerstone of my own fitness regime when I go for my daily bike rides, and between that app and Lose It!, I've managed to drop 16 pounds since January. So popular was RunKeeper that it wound up as one of the top-grossing apps of 2010, so it's curious to see the app now permanently fixed at free.
RunKeeper does offer RunKeeper Elite, a subscription-based service to expand the app and website's functionality, so it's possible the developers are counting on bringing in revenue solely through subscriptions from now on. We've reached out to RunKeeper for its comments on the app's current status, but we haven't heard back yet; if RunKeeper does give us additional info, we'll either update this post or write a followup.
Meanwhile, the takeaway from all this is iOS users interested in improving their fitness now have a powerful, free tool at their disposal... and those of you still rocking RunKeeper Free on your iPhones now have no reason not to upgrade.
Update: We received clarification from RunKeeper, and it turns out our initial supposition wasn't far off. RunKeeper was planning on having its Pro app free for January only, but after receiving more than a million app downloads in four days following the start of the promotion, the company decided to keep the app free and focus on building its community of users on the RunKeeper site. The app itself now serves as a gateway to the RunKeeper ecosystem rather than its main source of revenue; instead, RunKeeper now hopes to bring in revenue via subscription services like RunKeeper Elite and the RunKeeper store.
That's definitely an interesting approach, and possibly one that could net RunKeeper a lot more revenue in the long run than app sales alone. Wherever RunKeeper gets its money from, I hope it stays around for a long time.