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Runkeeper might be the best third-party run tracking app for the Apple Watch

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My journey to finding the best third-party run tracking app for my Apple Watch has been a long winding one with a lot of twists and turns. Before WatchOS 3, tracking runs was a pain as no app, not even Apple’s in-built Workout app was reliable when it came to the required metrics. After the biggest update to WatchOS in September, though, things have changed a lot on the fitness tracking front. I love what Apple did with their Workout app in WatchOS 3 and wanted to keep using it to track all my activities. The only issue I’m facing with the default Workout app is that it undercounts the calories that I’d have burnt in one running session (1.5 years of running and at least 5-6 different apps later, I think I have a pretty good idea about how many calories I should be burning in each run). That has led me to testing almost every run tracking app from every well-known developer under the sun and most of them haven’t been able to check all the boxes of my criteria of the perfect run tracking app. I have tested iSmoothRun, Runtastic Pro, Strava, Map My Run, Nike+ Run Club and Runkeeper and I feel that out of these, Runkeeper is the closest to my vision of the perfect run tracking app for my Apple Watch.

So, what, according to me, should a good run tracking app do? I’m glad you asked.

  • Should be able to launch the iPhone app and start/pause/end a workout from the Apple Watch reliably and quickly
  • Should surface at least 3-4 metrics on the screen during a run (preferably time, distance, average pace and average heart rate)
  • Should have music controls built into the app
  • Should let me pause runs using the ‘press digital crown and side button together’ gesture of WatchOS 3
  • Shouldn’t make me use force touch on the screen to pause/end a workout (sweaty hands make it an exercise in frustration at the end of a gruelling run)
  • Should have detailed post-run metrics in the app
  • Should allow me to export my runs in a format of my choice
  • Should have some social networking aspects (running groups, community events, leaderboards, etc.) built in

Not too much to ask, right? I have looked at each of the apps mentioned above from these perspectives and a lot of them do well in a few aspects and don’t do that well in others. Apple’s default WorkOut app checks most of these boxes (except the ‘exporting my runs’ bit) but again, it does undercount my calories burnt. The third-party run tracking app that checks most of these boxes and also counts my calories correctly is, you guessed it, Runkeeper. (There is one app that I’m yet to try, PUMATRAC. It was my run tracker of choice when I was using a Pebble and was very reliable. I also liked the badges the app had for various achievements. I don’t think it can win over Runkeeper but once I do try it out, I might write a detailed post comparing all these apps and highlight what each of them does well and what they suck at.)

Runkeeper was the first app I downloaded when I began this whole ‘running’ thing a couple of years ago. I liked the simplicity of the app and the focus on just tracking runs without much chaff (it has become complex since). Then, when I got really serious about running last year, around this time, I bought their Go subscription too. The app tracks runs accurately, has ample customization built in, provides a number of training programs for free for your running needs and also does the social aspect well with leaderboards and now, running groups. There’s also the motivation element with Runkeeper congratulating you whenever you beat a previous best metric and you can also set monthly/yearly goals that you want to achieve. There’s also a website where you can view all your runs and exporting those runs is also possible. All this aside, what makes me recommend Runkeeper, especially to Apple Watch users, is their brilliant watch app.

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Starting with the first thing that you’d probably do with a run tracking app on your Apple Watch, Runkeeper reliably launches a workout every time from the Apple Watch app even on my Series 0 Apple Watch. Unfortunately, even after the awesomeness that WatchOS 3 infused into the platform, most of the other apps (other than Apple’s WorkOut app) fail when it comes to doing this reliably. Post WatchOS 3, the displayed in-run metrics get updated reliably too and pausing and stopping runs also works reliably by swiping to the left and tapping on the relevant button (I have had so many instances of stamping my feet in frustration because I lost 15-20 seconds while trying to force touch and pause/stop a workout or the app fails to register my touch on the screen). Other than these, if I have a training plan running in my Runkeeper app on my iPhone, I can select and begin a run from it from the Apple Watch itself. There are a couple of things that even Runkeeper can’t do right now. Music controls are still a side button press and a swipe on the screen and a tap away and pausing a workout still requires using your sweaty finger to swipe towards the left on the screen instead of using the hardware buttons. That said, Runkeeper wins big in one key metric, reliability. And especially on a Series 0 Apple Watch which runs things at half the speed of its new Series 1 and Series 2 brethren, reliability is the most important metric. And hey, it counts my calories burnt correctly!

So, ya, Runkeeper is pretty great on the Apple Watch. A must have, I think.

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