Runkeeper versus Workout activities on Apple Watch

If I can trust the iPhone Activity application, I started tracking my workouts in Augustus 2013. Mostly running workouts.

That is two years before the Apple Watch was released, at April 24, 2015. I wanted to start tracking my runs. I did not want to buy an expensive watch at that time, so I searched for iOS applications as I had an iPhone, which has all the needed sensors. There were multiple applications available and after a short investigation, I went for Runkeeper as it seemed to promise all the features I wanted: it has a community, a planning feature and a history overview. A community is useful to be more motiviated. The planning feature is helping to guide and to get started with running and as I love stats, I definitely need a history with all numbers and stats.

So far, everything went fine until Apple released at the keynote event of 2016 the first Apple Watch with an onboard GPS module. The Apple Watch serie 2. This was a game changer, as the onboard GPS and ability for stand alone applications would mean that I could run without a (heavy) iPhone and reduce the risk of dropping it.

First Runkeeper application for Apple Watch. Source: Runkeeper.com

Runkeeper had already a small application for the Apple Watch that worked as companion for the iOS application. However, shortly after the keynote, they announced a standalone application that would allow us to run without the iPhone. Perfect!

While I was not seeing the purpose of an Apple Watch in the beginning, as the main focus is sending notifications and interrupting you in activities, the onboard GPS and standalone (running) applications convinced me to buy the Apple Watch to give it a try and see the impact on my running.

Runkeeper for Apple Watch series 2. Source: 9to5mac.com

Runkeeper released a big update of the application, which can be seen above. Fancy graphs, statistics and so on. However, when I started to use it, I had quite some issues. When running in standalone mode, the application should sync with the iOS application once you are back home, and the data should be synced to the cloud. For me, this process was not very reliable and I lost the data of quite some runs.

After some runs, the Apple Watch fired up a notification with “Congratulations on closing your activity ring”, “Congratulations on closing your move ring” and after this, the standalone app was often killed by the WatchOS to save memory (I think). This always resulted to losing the activity data..jeej. I contacted Runkeeper in December 2016 and they were aware of the issue, but no real fix was proposed in the last years.

A workaround for the problem is putting the watch in Do-Not-Disturb (DND) mode. before you started to run. While running, there is no option to enable the DND mode anymore. The DND mode would avoid having the notifications at the end of the run, which seems to improve the trustability of the application. However, I noticed that the syncing part was still often failing, resulting in going to run with the Apple Watch and the iPhone. Not ideal and against the purpose of buying the Apple Watch.

I contacted Runkeeper a few times, and after some time, they added me to the beta program. I was able to test the Runkeeper 8 version with again a complete redesign and improvements for standalone runners like me. Based on the interface, it seems they tried to reduce the memory usage to avoid some of the issues I had. No fancy graphs anymore. See below for some screenshots.

However, I was still losing some runs as syncs doesn’t seem to happen all the times. Runkeeper added multiple articles on their online help center about the issue, like “Workouts don’t display correctly” and “Trouble syncing activities from Apple Watch to Phone”. It is a good sign that they are aware, but it seems that the problem is not solvable in the last two years. During my last half marathon, the Runkeeper watch app decided to switch, mid run, from the metric system to miles, resulting in a corrupted run data and an incorrect distance and speed for the run. 🤔

Runkeeper 8 for Apple Watch. Source: iTunes Store of Apple (Belgium)

After those issues, Runkeeper lost my trust. After all, I really love statistics and those should be as complete and correct as possible. 🤓 After the last WWDC keynote of Apple, I started to rethink about my original problem: being able to run standalone without an iPhone. Seeing the improvements on the workout application of Apple, default built in on WatchOS, I decided to give it a go. I deleted the Runkeeper application (after making a full backup and sync to HealthKit by using RunGap and Tapiriik). We are now one month later, and I’m writing this recap for a small summary of my experiences.

Workout by Apple for Apple Watch. Source: Cultofmac.com

The Workout app of Apple is missing basic features that Runkeeper was offering, like having a way to plan your activities and/or generating running schedules towards a goal. There is no community, however you can easily share data with friends.

On a positive side, the native workout app was also adding extra useful features. It kept measuring your heart rate in the cool-down zone after a run. Before you start a run, you can set an objective. Like setting a distance, a time or amount of calories burning goal. Of course, you can also leave the goal open and just run. This was also possible with RunKeeper, but only when you start the run via the iOS application.

Another nice feature, which is lacking by Runkeeper, is the lock feature. When running in the winter or in raining conditions, I noticed that my jacket was interacting with the watch after some time. This resulted often in ending early my run by accidentally pressing on “pause” or even “end”. This resulted in incorrect stats and having no overview of the last run statistics. In the latest version of Runkeeper, the pause/end buttons are more hidden now, but it still happened from time to time. With the workout app of Apple, this feature is build in and available for all types of workout with just one click of a button. I contacted Runkeeper about this, but I’m not sure if this is even possible and not blocked by Apple. 😕

I’m using the workout app now for more then a month, and I started to use it for all kinds of things like keeping tracks of my bicycle rides to the office, tracking of my swim activities and more. All this kind of data, together with my weight measurements, heart measurements and activities during the day are now collected in the Health and Activities app of Apple which are more complete and are providing better insights. It’s however a more closed eco system than Runkeeper, but the data can still be exported when needed by using third party tools.

As a conclusion, I can say that I will stick on the Apple Workout application for now. Especially with the upcoming changes announced by Apple at the WWDC 2018 event for WatchOS 5, I’m pretty excited as there are new features especially for runners. I am not missing the Runkeeper community or planning tools as I’m planning my run schedules manually now and adjust it every month based on the progress and goals and until today, I did not had a incomplete or missing run from the statistics 😀

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