Using an Apple Watch for Running with Runkeeper

Using an Apple Watch for Running with Runkeeper

I've been using Runkeeper since 2009, originally to track cycling and walks but when I transitioned to running last year it was the my first choice. This isn't a full review of Runkeeper, that will come later along with reviews of Stravia and the Nike Run Club. What I did want to adress in this post was specifically using Runkeeper in conjunction with an Apple Watch.

I've had an Apple Watch since it's launch day, and worn it pretty much every day since. While it has never really impressed me as an app platform generally the notification and fitness features have kept me using it. The built in activity tracking and workout tracking is good but with so much invested in Runkeeper I'd hoped that their watch app would be the perfect go to. For a while this wasn't the case at all, on the first versions of watchOS the app was slow or unstable when starting, prone to crashing or would most frustratingly not update I looked to checking time and pace. It wasn't until watchOS 3.0 that Runkeeper on the watch became useful and stable enough that I started to use it primarily.

It wasn't a perfect transition, for six months on every run I wore the Apple Watch using the stock Workout app as well as a Garmin Forerunner 235 to compare the tracking while at the same time also using the Runkeeper app on my phone. With three independent sources of data the experiment was to see what worked best, was the most reliable and the simplest to use.

As the Apple software improved it became obvious that it was doing a very good job with the GPS tracking reliability and accuracy, did not crash and offered a clear easy to read screen. It and my Garmin never completely disagreed but the Workout app and Runkeeper phone app were mapping more accurately giving better precision on pace and distance. It was time to consider what was the simplest thing to be doing. The Forerunner is a great watch on it's own but I didn't like the companion phone app and while it wasn't difficult to sync results to Runkeeper if I choose there was a certain clunky feeling to it. I also found that I didn't really want to wear the Forerunner all the time and had disabled most of the features related to notifications and weather because the Apple Watch did them better.

At this point I will mention that it's not viable for me to run without my phone, I have two very young children and being out of touch and unreachable for any period of time on a regular basis just doesn't feel like something I should be doing. So in reality the decision to remove Garmin from my tracking equation seemed the obvious thing to do.

With the decision made I forged ahead and started to confidently track runs with the Workout app on my wrist and Runkeeper in my pocket. I still felt that things should still be more efficient because at this point I still had to start and stop two different devices and sometimes, especially at the end of a race would forget one or the other. With the Apple Health app I didn't really need to use both but I did anyway and maybe it was habit or tradition but I wanted to use Runkeeper directly. 

What really changed was the final release of watchOS 3.0 and an updated watch app from Runkeeper. Finally things are working as envisioned way back when the Apple Watch was announced, apps can track heart rate and write to the Health app properly, apps can start quickly and most important they can update their displayed information reliably. Now I with my iPhone securely in pocket I can easily select specific workouts, can start tracking a run with the watch app, and reliably see the current time, time elapsed, distance and current (or average) pace at a glance and it all feels very simple and reliable.

There are a couple of downsides still, though I feel like there are software issues that Runkeeper can improve upon. The current pace it reports still seems to be a bit off sometimes, the audible report I get from the full app running on the phone can be more accurate. It would also be nice to see current and average pace at the same time and/or generally being able to customize the arrangement of the watch face would helpful. It has time elapsed as the dominate metric but I would switch it for pace if I could. Odd little things still haven't made it to the watch app, there is no countdown delay when starting a run for instance. 

And a few other issues are more directed to Apple. The first generation watch I have can still be a tad slow, it's much better than it was but it's still an issue. Maybe Runkeeper can find some optimizations but trying to pause/stop/resume on a run can feel slightly unresponsive. I've gotten used to that and have seen that it's not an issue with the newer watch hardware. One bigger issue I have had is if it's raining it can be difficult to get the watch to respond to touch if the screen or your fingers are wet. This is something else I that might be fixed in the newer hardware as it's now officially water resistant but it would also be better if Apple would make it possible for apps to use one of the hardware buttons as an action. When saving a run the software save button is directly above the discard button and it's easy to miss, usually I scroll the screen so that the discard button is not visible to avoid the problem.

Even with the slightly slow generation one hardware and still developing OS and apps the Apple Watch and iPhone combination is still working better for me than any standalone GPS watch has to date. I've looked longingly at the new Apple Watch Series 2 but while including GPS in the watch directly is great, the faster processor and water resistance are great without a cellular or a roaming wifi connection it still means for me personally that I won't be able to leave my phone behind. That may not always be the case but for now I am holding out for the next version and hoping it has some form of onboard connectivity. 

In the meantime I continue to happily run along with my first generation Apple Watch and my run sized iPhone SE and await the next generation impatiently. It isn't to say that I wouldn't use another Garmin in the future either. Of the fitness watch makers I think they are closest in figuring out a better software ecosystem to go with their great hardware.

If you like you can join me on Runkeeper.

If you'd would like to get a Nike+ Sport styled silicon band (eg. with the holes) as shown in the header photo you can get one from Amazon.

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