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Summary:

While Apple’s television ads show off brawny and multilingual applications for the iPhone, the vast majority of those available in the much-ballyhooed app store seem to be glorified four-function calculators. Of course, just as the modern computer emerged from the simple electronic adding machine, many of […]

While Apple’s television ads show off brawny and multilingual applications for the iPhone, the vast majority of those available in the much-ballyhooed app store seem to be glorified four-function calculators. Of course, just as the modern computer emerged from the simple electronic adding machine, many of these apps hold the potential to grow into something impressive. But when?

This puts the app buyer in a tough spot — who’s going to shell out real money for something that doesn’t do much now but perhaps, down the line, could evolve into a killer app? On the flip side, what’s an app developer to do? Risk losing market share by taking time to create a truly robust application or rush something out the door and fix it on the fly?

These thoughts came to me when I was testing out a potentially very cool app today called RunKeeper. The app uses the GPS in your phone to track how far and fast you’ve traveled on your run, bike ride or journey to your local Starbucks. The app works fine, collecting GPS data many times a minute and displaying your run time and speed in a bar graph as well as a map. But $9.99 is lot to ask for something I could do with a cheap digital watch and GMap pedometer for free.

FitnessKeeper, the startup that makes RunKeeper, says they’re adding a number of features their forum members have been suggesting. Founder Jason Jacobs explained their strategy as such: “Instead of sitting in a vacuum and developing a laundry list of features we’re not sure people would use, we’d rather get a product out early and be very nimble and really grow with our community.” But with a price tag of ten bucks, it’s an expensive app that doesn’t offer a huge amount of functionality yet.

It been less than two months since the app store went live, and I’ve downloaded scores of app updates, but no updates have yet offered serious upgrades. App developers will have to show that they are dedicated to keeping their offerings fresh if they expect users to pay up front.

  1. @Craig: Since when is $10 expensive?

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  2. You say “The app works fine, collecting GPS data many times a minute and displaying your run time and speed in a bar graph as well as a map. But $9.99 is lot to ask for something I could do with a cheap digital watch and GMap pedometer for free.”… could you elaborate on how it would be easier with a digital watch and gmap? This app *seems* to do all the work for you. Am I incorrect in thinking that? It seems that with the gped site you have to click on the points you want to record. Am I missing something?

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  3. The author is comparing a comprehensive product that can track distance, speeds, and pace along with the ability to look at the map later on the web to a pedometer. That’s quite the stretch.

    If you only want a pedometer, runkeeper is overkill, but if you want to use a gps based product so you can track distance, speed, pace, location, and store it in a history file you cannot do that without using more expensive hardware and software.

    I use a $350.00 watch for tracking running speeds, distance and viewing a map at a later time. At 9.99 runkeeper is a bargain for iphone users.

    first the author says it’s a potentially cool application as if more features would make it cool, then his remarks compare it to a labor intensive process using a stopwatch, pad of paper, and a computer at a later time. I didn’t realize many starbucks patrons thought 9.99 was a large amount of money to spend. Isn’t that 2 or 3 drinks from the barista bar?

    it sounds more like he’s frustrated with the concept of iphone applications because he has no need for any of them. My feeling is if the author wanted to throw iphone apps under the bus, runkeeper is the wrong app. Didn’t he see the lame flashlight?

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  4. @ Allan: $9.99 is very expensive considering so many robust apps in the iTunes app store are FREE. The only apps in the “Top Paid Apps” section that $9.99 are full on games. The majority are $5 or less.

    @ Jason: I never said a stop watch and Gmap would be “easier.” I said it would be a free way to get a lot of the same data the RunKeeper offers for %9.99. True, my method of digital watch and Gmap wouldn’t give me my speed at different points, but it would be an accurate account of my average speed and length of run in terms of distance and time.

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  5. Craig:
    I don’t expect some gratuitous review, but come on. There are lots of runners out there that are very serious about their data and a pedometer just isn’t as accurate. Many have purchase the Nike+ kit for that very purpose (myself included). For a mere $10, I can now have an accurate time, pace, AND MAP of my run which is GPS accurate. Maybe you don’t care about accuracy, but this system is equivalent to the Garmin system costing more than the iPhone itself. Perhaps you should compare it to that system rather than a pedometer and stopwatch.
    Brian

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  6. I have to agree that $10 isn’t expensive when you compare this against products that do the same thing. Being able to track your pace live while jogging/bicycling is extremely cool and real bonus to those of us trying to improve our speeds. I’m an avid mountain biker and figuring out how far I’ve gone and at what speed is pretty tough. I already own an iPhone so by just popping this little app in I’m able to track that and even see my route on a map later.
    Another great thing is that this company is dedicated to making this the best tracking app ever so they are listening to the users and will be adding future upgrades. It’s already a great program, but it’s going to get even better with time.

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  7. i bought runkeeper. For $10 it does what a $300 garmin gps does. the author is being ridiculous complaining about the cost of this app, and comparing it to a pedometer – oh be serious!

    sure the iphone is bulky compared to a garmin, but you cant listen to a garmin, or call for help on it if you get injured on a long run.

    if you want to do a comparison have a look at other GPS apps, eg. running gypsy and Trailguru. Trailguru also does GPS, maps with speed data … and it’s free!

    i do agree that more features are required from runkeeper in order to compete WITH OTHER iPHONE APPS (mainly more data from runs available on the website, and audio feedback of whether you are above or below target pace… and the developers say this is coming.

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  8. [...] your GPS, the application tracks your travel and can build a velocity profile (similarly to how RunKeeper tracks your running speeds), figuring out how efficiently you’re driving. You can keep multiple vehicle profiles so you [...]

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  9. $300 for a garmin is expensive
    $10 for RunKeeper is a waste of money

    I just tried out Fitnio’s iPhone app this morning. Fitnio is better that RunKeeper and absolutely free. Plus Fitnio gives a live calorie count during the run.

    You can download it for free from
    http://www.fitnio.com

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  10. @Craig they have a free version now.

    @Travis Perhaps things have changed since your post by Runkeeper has a free version. I just took a look at Fitnio and I don’t see where Fitnio is better than Runkeeper but I see where Runkeeper is better than Fitnio. One place that stands out is the ability to hover over the elavation/speed graph and see where that sample is from on Google maps. While the live calorie count is good for those that are runing until a certian number of calories are burned for most of us I am not sure how much value a live count is. Runkeeper provides this information but not live.

    I did a blog post How To Use RunKeeper To Cycle Faster which may be of interest.

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