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Summary:

Radio chips and sensors under mats are an old-school way to broadcast race information when running. Now you can use the GPS in your phone and RunKeeper’s new Live service to share your race or exercise data. And it works for any non-stationary exercise.

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As an avid runner, I’ve often wanted to share my data in real time. In fact, some of the bigger races I run actually do transmit limited personal data by using a radio chip with sensors around the course. Typically, these chips attach to a shoe and the sensors are at specific points like the start, finish and key split distances. As the race timing system collects data, it’s transmitted over the web so friends and family can see how I’m doing. The problem with this solution is that it only provides the split data where the sensors are on the course, so the information is fairly limited. RunKeeper is making strides to change that — this week, the company began offering its RunKeeper Live service for the iPhone.

I’ve covered this software in detail before — see my video review here — and the new Live service is the next logical step. The software already uses the GPS radio of an iPhone to track running, cycling, hiking and any other exercise that gets you moving around. And that data is used on the RunKeeper website to map your route, log your speed, elevation and more — up to now that data would be stored on the phone until after the completion of your exercise. After you’re done working up a sweat, the app sends the data to RunKeeper for viewing and logging. The new Live service does this in real-time. Here’s a walkthrough of the new service:

Again, as a runner, I see huge benefits. For starters, I can “broadcast” any races and not be limited to the occasional sensors on course. But more importantly, my family can see where I’m at on training runs if they ever need to reach me. And if — heaven forbid — I’m injured or unable to continue what I’m doing, I can easily be found. I’ve lost track of how many times my wife was worried simply because I decided to add more miles to a training run while out on the roads. What I told her would be a 45 minute jog has become a two hour jaunt simply because I felt good.

From a privacy standpoint, the Live service is turned off by default, which is good. As I understand it, you can only turn it via the RunKeeper website in your profile — not in the app. That’s not a huge limitation though because I’ve used the RunKeeper site on my iPhone without any problems. I’d like to see that tweaked as well as see some further customization options, but for now, this is a good start provided users understand that they’re broadcasting their actual location.

The other concern is that anyone viewing your RunKeeper public profile can see your location when you use the Live service. Here’s my public profile, which has some activities mapped and logged, but I’ve kept the locations private. You can’t see where I’ve been, but you can see what I’ve done — you can also see the impact of illness and injury have had on my training activities this year so far. I’d like an option for the Live info be tagged to a unique, private URL — like a single use web page.

For now, RunKeeper Live is only available to subscribers of the FitnessReports service, which is $4.99 monthly or $19.99 a year. There’s both free version of the RunKeeper app and a Pro version for $9.99 in the iTunes App Store — the RunKeeper folks are working on a version for Android.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Location-Based Services: From Mobile to Mobility

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  1. I’ve been using RunKeeper everytime I go out for a run. It’s a great application. I think the live option would be of great use for races. I’ve not got up to that level of dedication yet though :(

    Runkeeper is a great example though of how the iPhone is exceedingly multi-purpose, the swiss knife of mobile computing..

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