If there’s one genre of app that takes advantage of almost every sensor that the iPhone contains, it’s fitness apps. By monitoring and tracking our progress, they can be a key motivational tool to power through and keep up the exercise regime, and I see more people than ever with an iPhone strapped to their arm.
Nike has long been at the forefront of blurring the lines between fitness and technology, having started with their Nike+iPod sensor over seven years ago and continues to do so with Nike+ Running. It’s been some time since we initially published our Nike+ GPS review (over two and a half years ago, to be precise) and, since then, both the app and the Nike+ running service have undergone some fundamental changes.
On Your Marks
Nike+ Running brings your stats front and centre, showing you your overall progress (such as distance, number of runs and average pace) as soon as you launch the app.
Nike+ Running, as you guessed, uses the iPhone’s GPS to calculate your speed and distance. The iPhone’s GPS has always been reliably accurate (the ongoing Apple Maps problems are due to mapping data, not GPS accuracy) so the app can gather some incredibly detailed information.
Not only does the app use GPS to provide the above information, it also records your run so you can look back at it later or share them online via Nike+, perfect for if you’ve stumbled across a great running route.
iPod touch and treadmill runners where GPS would be pointless can still use Nike+ Running, though with reduced accuracy, as the app also monitors the various sensors and accelerometers within the iOS device. Even without a GPS signal to monitor, the Nike+ app seems to be almost as accurate. It’s often been said that the accelerators within the iPhone are exceedingly accurate, and Nike+ Running is a prime example of just how good they are.
Starting a run is done simply by tapping the Run button which, to be honest, doesn’t stand out and has an incredibly small touch area, meaning it takes a few taps before you successfully press it. With an app like Nike+ Running, I’d much prefer this to be a huge button that is impossible to miss rather than be tucked away in the toolbar.
You can view all of your previous runs within the Activity tab and this syncs with Nike+ so that any runs you may have had previously, or synced from other devices such as an iPod nano, are also available. The stats that Nike+ Running provides are impressive, giving you a breakdown of everything from calories burned to average pace.
For more seasoned runners, you’re also able to specify which running shoes you were using. While this might sound a little strange to begin with, one of the most common causes of injury when running is from worn-out shoes and Nike+ Running provides a running total in every run to indicate how many miles or kilometres you’ve gone, very smart indeed.
Each GPS run is even displayed along with a map of the route. This mapping is useful for anyone who takes their running seriously and pace is displayed as a heat graph, with green being fastest and red being slowest. Even the day’s weather is captured and saved with each run, showing just how much though Nike put in to providing information that matters.
There’s nothing worse than planning a run and the weather takes a turn for the worse. While some prefer to run in the rain, others may be a little more protective of the iOS device strapped to their arm. Handily, Nike+ Running includes the ability to schedule a run reminder that provides some weather information so you can plan your next run accordingly. For some reason, this feature is buried within the settings and could really benefit from standing out on its own.
Nike+ Running is designed to work when your iPhone is placed in an armband, with a choice of screen orientation so you can use it on either arm. The app features its own lock screen and will prevent your iPhone from going to sleep. The screen is dark but still easily readable, even at night, without being a distraction.
You can also opt to receive cheers, a feature where Nike+ posts to Facebook that you’re about to go for a run, anyone who likes the status is translated as a round of applause through your earphones. If you care about listening to music, don’t use this, especially with busy Facebook profiles.
When running, the screen is locked so you don’t inadvertently pause or stop your run. The information is clear and easy to refer to, with the distance getting the most screen area.
Gone is the annoying slider, which almost never worked, instead replaced by a button you have to press and hold. Unlocking the screen gives you the ability to pause and end the run, as well as display a map that you can refer to if you get lost.
Voice feedback is provided by Nike+ own voice feedback, not Siri, which provides information on distance and time as you’re running. Depending on whether you’ve broken any previous records or hit a new milestone, you’ll sometimes hear various celebrity voices congratulate you on whatever it is you did, providing further motivation.
Competition is another key element of Nike+ Running and the main screen of the app displays who your closest competitor is on your friends list.
Nike+ Running is a complete extension of the Nike+ service, a quasi- social network where you can build up a list of friends, set challenges and track your progress. It wasn’t so long ago that the app was treated almost separately, now it’s an almost necessity to sign up. Whether you see this as a good or bad thing is up to you, but you never have to visit the Nike+ site and it means all of your runs are synced so that if you use another iOS device or have it replaced, your runs are always available.
Beyond Nike+, the app includes the ability to share runs to Twitter, Facebook and Path. In this latest update, Nike included the option of taking and including a photo when sharing to social networks, including the addition of Instagram. Beach runners and those who have the benefit of some fantastic looking national parks will make the most use out of this, whereas us suburban dwellers might just skip this.
The photo function is quite good as it even supports multiple photos you can lay out in a collage and Instagram users will be happy to know that the app uses the favoured square format, so no cropping.
I’ve been using the Nike+ Running (formerly Nike+ GPS) app ever since it was released and each iteration has gotten better and better, even dropping the price tag and going free last year. For anyone thinking of using an iPhone for fitness or considering bringing it along to their next run, I encourage anyone with an interest in running to download the app and try it at least once.