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RunKeeper vs MapMyFitness.. and Strava, and iRunner..

June 1, 2012
runkeeper-mapmy-strava-irunner

(Last edit: 31st July 2013)

Several of my friends use exercise recording apps, particularly for walking, running, and cycling. I had a look at a few options, but found two that seem to have broad appeal.  These are RunKeeper (which is not just for running), and MapMyFitness (also known/available as iMapMy, and in specialised form as MapMyRun, MapMyRide..)

Update: most have switched to Strava, and I now use iRunner, described further down.

These apps allow you to:

  • Record start and end times of various sport/exercise activities
  • Record your path, including speed and altitude, using GPS built into an iPhone or Android device
  • Listen to music while exercising, with periodic voice-over announcing your progress
  • Set goals and report your progress
  • Report statistics on your activities, including e.g. monthly totals, fastest time on a route, estimated energy spent
  • Accept data from capable heart rate monitors, pedometers, sports GPS recorders etc
  • Share your activities and favourite routes with friends (who are also members), and/or the whole world.
  • Publish your achievements on Facebook and Twitter

My aim here is not to give an exhaustive review of these products, but to point out a few differences and share my experience.

Cost

RunKeeper have recanted on the “with ads” approach and now offer a single app without advertisements. Paid membership increases the range of reporting available from their web site.

RunKeeper’s site is clean and fairly straightforward.

Strava takes a similar approach to RunKeeper. Paid membership unlocks goal tracking, more reporting and analysis.

iRunner / iCardio is free for basic function, which includes ability to upload your workouts to Strava and RunKeeper accounts. In-app upgrades are very affordable. You can “go pro” for all features (about $10), or just add options for external sensors (like a heart monitor), custom routines, and fitness assessments more cheaply.

MapMy is free (with ads). Paid membership removes the advertisements, and higher subscription levels provide extra reports, printed maps, training plans, and priority customer support.  The first paid level, “bronze”, is $30 p.a.

If you don’t want to pay $30 each year, you will find the iMapMy web site heavily bogged down with animated advertisements. Apart from the annoying visuals, it makes the site slower to use, as the animations often load before the page displays properly.

If you do pay, the MapMy web sites are transformed into something much more usable and navigable.

Value

It’s hard to beat the value of “free”, though I hated MapMy’s web site in free/advertising mode. iRunner’s upgrades are so cheap it hardly matters. Looking at the fully paid versions, Strava looks the most expensive, but if you’re going to pay a monthly or annual membership you’ll want to look in more detail at the features available. Each system is a little different.

Ease of use

Both products take a little fiddling to work out, but I find RunKeeper just a little more intuitive to use.

Mobile Features & Capability

MapMy seems a little more sophisticated. The most notable difference I’ve found is support for multiple laps in a run or ride.  Both will allow you to record a path that contains multiple laps, but only MapMy will treat them as laps of a circuit and allow lap splits. Edit: Strava does this better.

Finding / sharing routes

RunKeeper makes it easy to save a mapped activity as a “route”. You can then select this route when using it again, and hence compare times. Routes can be shared with friends.  Searching for routes only shows those published by my “street team” (list of registered friends).

It doesn’t seem to work the same in MapMy. I found it rather confusing, but the answer may be in their new web site (currently in “beta” testing) with the new “courses” feature. Registered users can switch between the old and new sites until the new one is finalised.  Searching for routes in MapMy shows many results from all users. However, it doesn’t seem to search by location very well.

Online support

Each product has a support forum, accessible after you have registered.  I can appreciate that providing end-user support to many thousands of users, for GPS-using software running on mobile phones, would be quite a burden, and many issues may actually be completely unrelated to the software.   MapMy appears to have a good commitment to participating and answering questions.  RunKeeper seems a bit overwhelmed.

Battery

Any mobile phone will consume more power while using its GPS receiver. The same goes for apps that access the internet. Keep this in mind when planning longer runs or rides.

Previously:  MapMy has a problem causing continued heavy battery use after you stop using the app.  That’s right, record an activity, end the activity, and switch away from the app, and the battery will continue to run down — not quite as quickly while actively using GPS, but enough to flatten a newish iPhone’s battery overnight. I normally get 2 days including plenty of talk time. Users on their support forum report the same thing occurring on Android phones.
The workaround is to force the app to close.  Normally, apps remain open in the background on both iPhone and Android.  On iPhone, double-tap the “home” button, and the bottom row of the screen presents a scrollable view of open apps. Press and hold one of them, and they will show a small red “x” above them. Then you can tap an app to completely close it. Press “home” again to return to the normal view.

Don’t be too hasty with this workaround. iMapMy is very web-centric; if it hasn’t yet sent your activity data via the internet, force-closing the app means losing your records.

Update: I hear this may have been fixed around October 2012.

Strava

Members of our club have taken to Strava, which seems a mature system. It supports only two activities: running and cycling*.  The iPhone app seems a little basic, with no voice announcements, no screen rotation, and a display of average but not current speed, though serious riders would have a speedo / bike computer / sports GPS, and probably not be wearing earphones.

At first I was surprised there’s no distinction between road and mountain biking, but found you can list specific bikes and nominate which one was used on each ride. I would like to be able to do this in the iPhone app though.  

The web site features have clearly had a lot of input from serious enthusiasts and competitors. Most notably, rather than simply calling a whole run or ride as a “route” which can be shared and re-used, Strava supports segments. A segment could be a hill climb (or descent), a loop, or any other section travelled. The great thing is they are detected automatically. Having completed a run or ride, any included segments are listed with it on the web site, along with your time(s) for the segment, indicators of your best times, and your rank among all Strava users on the same path.  

Since it distinguishes segments from whole runs/rides, I can ride to a meet, compete several laps of a circuit with breaks (tag-team) and ride home, all recorded as a single “ride”, yet am able to compare the actual circuit laps.

* Update:  Strava now supports walking, windsurfing, skating, swimming, various skiing and other nordic activities..

* Update: Cyclists, use a bike mount; see further down.

iRunner

(Update: section added Feb 2013)

I got a heart rate monitor for Christmas, and started looking into how it could help me train. This led me to prefer Digifit iRunner to record my rides and runs. It features a number of ways to report your progress with popup and lock-screen alerts, and configurable voice feedback.  iRunner’s configurable dashboard is great; large fonts for a quick read! DigFit has a good recording and reporting on its own web site, but iRunner also allows upload to 7 other fitness sites, as well as social media like Facebook. This means if you or your friends have committed to Strava or Runkeeper ecosystem, you can get the benefits of iRunner without losing your results or your friends. There is one notable omission from the upload list: MapMy isn’t supported. Also, the upload has to be done manually (a couple of screen taps) at the end of a workout. It’d be nice to have this made automatic, but that would be tricky if you then want to edit/annotate a workout as it’s already been sent.

Update July 2013: Strava response to recent issue: “We recently deprecated our older API versions which DigitFit was using to upload to Strava. We’re now working with the DigiFit developers to get them set up with our new V3 API. They’ll have an updated app available soon that will resolve this problem, but I don’t have specific timing on its release.”

iRunner is free, though some features depend on paying a modest in-app fee to upgrade.

While Runkeeper and Strava can record heart rate, iRunner and the DigiFit site are particularly focused on “cardio fitness”, with reporting on time spent in different heart rate “zones”. Clearly you need a compatible heart rate monitor to get this benefit. Sensor support does require a paid upgrade to the app ($2.99). Your maximum heart rate is configurable. Default zones are fixed at 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-90, 90-100%, but you can make your own; some trainers recommend different ranges.

iRunner can give voice feedback on heart rate. I soon found the alerts annoyingly long, as they stated not just the band, but the minimum and maximum heart rates for the band (in bpm) every time. Thankfully, the makers added an option to turn that off, so now it can just announce “entering band 4″. That’s much better when learning the discipline of an all-aerobic workout.

iRunner has companion editions, iBiker and iCardio. “All our apps offer the same multi-sport functionality. There are small differences in initial defaults and quotes & tips oriented to the name.” iCardio is the only one available for Android phones.

Heart rate & training recommendations

Here’s some sites I found useful:

One interesting snippet from the Yahoo answers link:

A better measure than heart rate while running is how quickly it recovers. After you run, time your heart right at the end, at 1 minute, and at 2 minutes. The faster it recovers, the better your conditioning.

iRunner includes a “cool down” feature, which ends the “session” but shows a graph of your heart rate for the next 2 minutes. The cool-downs are recorded to DigiFit, but are not part of the workout uploaded to other sites like Strava.

runkeeper-mapmy-strava-irunner

Overall

MapMy seems a little more capable than RunKeeper, and better supported. Handling of “laps” almost convinced me to switch from RunKeeper. The battery problem convinced me not to.

RunKeeper is a little easier to get started, and if your aim is “what can I get for free”, a much nicer site. It supports a very broad range of exercise activities, with goal-setting and social media bragging accountability. RunKeeper is a good choice for general exercise alone or with friends.

If you run or ride with a club, or competitively, Strava does it better, though the others are catching up.

For voice feedback on heart rate, a large-font dashboard, use iRunner. 

If you’re willing to spend some money for a comprehensive package but still don’t know, then use iRunner but also set up accounts on Strava and RunKeeper. (July 2013 – Strava just made this harder). Send your data to all of them, look at what they tell you, and look at the upgrade options. Then buy a bike computer or training watch, with GPS and heart rate sensor, and upload to any system you want.

Bike mounts

If you want to see and control your fitness app while cycling, you’ll need a mount, particularly if you want to keep an eye on heart rate, energy burn, or other stats. Using a mount will give better GPS accuracy than carrying a phone in the back of your jersey or in other pockets, especially at corners. (Your body will block view of half the sky, so half the available satellites. When you turn, the ones in use will be lost, and your phone will have to find and lock onto others, perhaps taking half a minute to settle).  I found this makes a significant difference for Strava segment matching.

My experience with a couple of models is here.

If you need a case / mount for your iPhone or other smartphone, click here to get a 10% discount on a QuadLock!

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11 Comments
  1. Bill Hayden permalink

    FYI, MapMyRun has helpfully removed the lap feature in their new interface. :-(

    • Zac permalink

      They have “helpfully” turned even the paid app into an app that is $30 a year for any of the features that makes it better than its competitors. Wish I could export my data.

  2. I hear MapMy have recently fixed their battery drain problem on iPhones.
    Presently I’m using iRunner, which has a good dashboard screen, and can share to both Strava (which most of the local cyclists use) and RunKeeper, as well as a selection of other sites though excluding MapMy.

  3. iRider permalink

    I use Mapmyride and is awsome. Of Course battery dies due to GPS usage. But I ride about 7km to 15km is battery still over 50%.

    Recently I bought Jawbone Up, so I will download RunKeeper to connect to my Up. but let’s see. I am happy with MapMyRide.

    Cheers

    • Hi iRider,
      All apps that use GPS will run the battery down while in use. MMR was (for a fair while) killing the battery while *not* in use. I’m glad MMR is working well for you.

      It looks like competition between apps is spurring them all on to improve and extend. More are adding heart rate analysis. Routes/courses/segments are gaining traction, though much of that value is in having friends/peers in the same ecosystem.

      – one guy

  4. …. Sad Strava shut out Digifit. I’m guessing I’m going to have to export/import TCX files into Strava or vice versa? Lame. I’m hoping they reconsider or maybe they are just updating their API?

    I started with Runkeeper back in 2011. Tried Digifit… got a heart rate monitor and then fell in love with Digifit. I have been exporting/syncing from Digifit to Runkeeper and Strava for about 9 months now. I like Runkeeper as a platform as they have the open API and tons of integrations. I like using http://www.onehealthscore.com to give an at a glance view of my overall exercise momentum.

    I just wish the Digifit to Runkeeper upload would translate calories properly on the Runkeeper side.

    With the lack of direct Strava connection from Digifit, it has me wondering if I should try tracking mountain bike rides in Strava since I’m forced to do the export/import process anyway. However, I like how I can customize my Digifit dashboards that I see while riding. Stats such as average calories per minute and elevation are nice to see at a glance. But… will I miss them? I’d still use Digifit for tracking indoor cardio, jogging (probably) and crossfit-style workouts (indoor).

    Thanks for continuing to update this post.

    • Thanks for the comment DQ. DigiFit updated their advice to include:

      “Strava has renewed their APIs and is no longer granting access to all developers, Digifit included. Strava is hoping to relaunch another API program in the future, but has no immediate estimate on when that will happen.”

      I’ve made suggestions to Strava to include a large-font dashboard, and audible feedback on heart rate zones. In the past I’ve found them fairly well committed to user support, but presuming on developers to add features is another thing..

      DigiFit and RunKeeper can both export .gpx files, which Strava will import.

      Another option is to actually run two programs at once. I’ve done that before and it worked, though it’s a bit fiddly having to start a run/ride, switch apps and tell it to start, then have to stop both of them at the end. Even more so if you want to manually pause recording.

      –oneguy

      • Ha! Yes, I’ve wondered if 2 apps could run at the same time. It does sound fiddly and easy enough to export/import a TCX or GPX file.

        Does GPX contain heart rate info? TCX files are much larger in file size… I just assumed GPX didn’t.

        Yes, I just downloaded the Strava app and it is fairly basic. It seems more geared toward road biking maybe… or, they are just going for the svelte design aesthetics. There isn’t anything wrong with it. I can always switch to an elevation app if I want to see my elevation. Seeing my current heart rate, miles, current speed and time are really the only essential items. Of which, Strava includes on the activity dashboard.

        I like being able to see my heart rate charged on the Digifit graph during some workouts. Interval training type stuff. But, it isn’t that important to see during my ride.

        Hopefully Strava does open their API again. Thanks for the update.

        For now, I plan to give the Strava app a try. Maybe that was their master plan of closing the API for a bit? I should bug them to make it easier to sync Strava activities with Digifit and Runkeeper :-)

      • Strava does have separate apps for running and cycling, though I think that’s just marketing; you can record either activity with either app. Same with iRunner/iBiker.
        Yes, GPX can include heart rate.

      • I wanted to provide a quick update. I’m sure there are better places to post this… but my Google search yesterday popped your post up on page 1 of my results… so it must be relevant :-)

        Went on a 9 mile mountain bike ride with Strava and I signed up for Strava’s month-2-month Premium service.

        Here’s my experience in a nutshell: I missed my Digifit dearly and plan to return to it after a one afternoon rendezvous with the latest strava app.

        1) I forgot Strava doesn’t show calorie burn during activity. While this isn’t essential… I missed it. I believe that I use it as one more trigger to push myself. The harder I work… the more I burn.

        2) I could get pass this once I got used to it… but I couldn’t read any of the small, gray text on the activity homepage. I could get used to knowing what each larger number is… but it bothered me a little. This was on full brightness on an overcast 5pm ride. (Bright, but no direct sun)

        3) I forgot that I’d have to login to Strava.com, export the GPX, import to Digifit.com and then either sync to Runkeeper via the Digifit app (after syncing Digifit app to server to get imported Strava activity from Digifit.com) or just login to Runkeeper and import the GPX there too. Ack. Easier to stick with Digifit and then export/import into Strava while syncing to Runkeeper in Digifit app. Did I lose you there?

        4) The screen! I couldn’t find a way to make Strava force my iPhone’s screen to stay on. My typical ride is 1 to 2 hours. If my phone is fully charged, or close to it, I usually let Digifit leave my screen on the whole ride. I really like the at-a-glance metrics. To see my Strava screen, I’d have to push my iPhone button and then swipe to unlock. For a long ride… Strava’s auto-screen-sleep would be good/handy. I think Digifit may have that as a setting.

        Other Notes
        - The live Segments thing in the Strava app is sort of interesting… but for me, as a mountain biker, I’d prefer to login back at home to see how I did. I suppose I could get some use out of this feature. I know I pushed myself in one segment and I killed my last time. However, I didn’t use the live segments… just my awareness that the segment existed from playing with the webapp. I wonder if Live Segments warns you that you are approaching a segment… doubt it since it can’t predict your path. Unless, it does based on pass rides or just nearby segments. Hmmm.

        - I really like the Strava webapp. Seeing my improvements over time in each segment is addicting. The premium account lets me filter the results better… but time will tell if I get burned out like I did last year and quit the Premium. The Suffer score and Points in Red is a nice metric that will help push me. Too bad a semi-accurate, live version of those metrics can’t be integrated into the home screen.

        - I plan to stick with the Digifit app. Their new MVP service looks interesting but won’t get my money until they implement the activity comparison feature. Even then… Strava offers some comparison with their free service… so not sure there. I could see using Digifit MVP if everyone I rode with used Digifit and I could bring them all into a Group. But, not everyone in my group is as obsessed with tracking and heart rate and…

        - Going back to the screen and why I like it always on… whether this is good or not for “training”, I like having my heart rate in front of me for at-a-glance readings. I find that I push myself more if I see my heart rate is low while maybe my body or some element of fear is telling me I should take a break. I will also force a brake if my heart rate gets too high for too long on a long climb. I know I can use physiological responses to do the same… but an objective metric is easier to follow.

        Disco.

        Oh, since your comments are not dated….
        Comment Posted: July 12, 2013

    • Thanks again DQ; I largely agree. (I don’t watch Calorie burn, but heart rate for discipline in keeping it down on most rides). My phone is configured to stay on, so there’s one problem avoided. Having Strava on the phone is handy for finding / following a new segment, as I did yesterday, but that’s pretty rare.

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