Sunday, July 8, 2012

RunKeeper compared to MyTracks

I am both a fan of exercise and of technology. Therefore, whenever I run or cycle, I like to use an application that leverages the GPS functionality of my phone to keep a track of exactly where I have been going and how fast I have been running/cycling etc. I have been a long time happy user of the  MyTracks  application from Google. Recently I converted to using RunKeeper because after watching a presentation on the benefits of sociability in training apps, I wanted to use an app which was more sociable. Ironically I am now switching back again because RunKeeper is too social.

In terms of core functionality, the tow applications are similar. MyTracks  application is a typical Google product which tends to appeal to most geeks like myself. It doesn't have lots of features, but it does one thing and it does it very well. The one thing it does is use the sensors in the phone to track exactly where you went.

  • It does not even assume that you are using it for tracking fitness related activities - for example I first started using MyTracks, I was walking around neighbourhoods and tracking the location of roads so that I could update OpenStreetMap.
  • If you are using MyTracks for tracking your training you can simply select the menu item "send to Google" each time you complete an activity and Google will automatically create a Google Docs spreadsheet with all the details of your training statistics without any effort on your behalf.
  • The level of detail in the data is more than would be collected by a professional athlete, but there are no fancy graphs or charts. However, it is easy to use that application of your choice to create any chart you want.
  • Likewise they don't attempt to implement any sociability features, but they make it easy to export your data to any other application if this is what you want to do. For example, I occasionally  use the excellent Tracks2Miles application written by Ben Hardill to send my training data to the DailyMile site so that I can share information with friends.
I said that MyTracks makes no direct attempt at being sociable with your training data, but the  makers of RunKeeper seem to assume that the only reason you are collecting data is so that you can share it on their site. If these applications were real people, I would compare MyTracks with a work colleague who believes that there is no need for social chit chat at work. In contrast RunKeeper is more like one of those annoying cheerleader types who keeps offering encouragement (whether you want it or not). Initially this encouragement is great, but after a while it begins to get on my nerves.
  • The only place that the RunKeeper application will store data is on their site. Of course it is possible to later export the data to share it elsewhere, but not many people will go to this trouble. I suppose this is a natural choice for them, but I personally prefer the Google approach of making it easy to share data directly from their application to wherever you want.
  • The charts on the RunKeeper site are much more visually appealing than the plan text spreadsheet created by MyTracks, but Google actually makes the raw data easier to get at.
  • The default settings on RunKeeper is to share every piece of data with everyone. Of course it is possible to change these settings, but it would be easy for a shy person to be embarrassed by accidentally over sharing.
  • The RunKeeper site will constantly send you congratulatory emails and/or post to your Facebook profile when you achieve significant training milestones. I suppose this is probably viewed as a good feature by some people, but personally I found it to be patronizing when I first started using RunKeeper and went on a fairly short slow run to try it out. They were gushing about how it was my longest run ever and a personal best (of course it was my longest ever run from their point of view).
Choosing an application, is somewhat like picking whom to be friendly with - there is no one choice which is right for everyone. Both of these applications are very good, but I think it is important to pick an application that its a good match for your personality. This is why I am sticking with MyTracks (for now).

1 comment:

  1. Cool article - Thanks Brian!

    I think I'll stick with mytracks now too, the raw data storage, and data attached to my google account appeals to me - I'll have to give RunKeeper a try though, and see how it works.