Roundup: The best third-party Apple Watch running apps

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited May 2015
Fitness tracking is a core Apple Watch feature, and Apple builds in comprehensive app support with its Workout app, but owners may want to check out third-party running-centric options with extras like route creation, coaching and social network integration.




Since Apple currently does not allow developer access to Watch's heart rate sensor, its own Workout app is by default the most comprehensive for run analytics. Even without biometric monitoring, however, third-party apps offer Watch owners useful extras, especially for those already invested in existing fitness platforms like Nike+.

The following apps were tested paired with an iPhone for GPS and cellular data functionality.

Runtastic

Runtastic is one of the better third-party offerings as it includes deep remote control functions and quick access to critical run information like elapsed time, distance and pace measurements in an easy-to-read overview pane.




The main activities screen lets users select from a number of sports with options to toggle both GPS tracking and voice feedback (through iPhone or Bluetooth headset) on or off. Starting a session brings up three panes: a music control panel, the data-rich run overview, and a graphic readout of split mile times for pacing longer runs. The overview page can also be activated as a Glances pane.

While not as comprehensive as its iPhone counterpart, Runtastic for Apple Watch can display past run history with details including distance time, pacing, elevation, speed weather conditions, post-run mood and mile splits. Monthly performance is further broken down in a Statistics page.

The $4.99 "pro" app version removes in-app adds and unlocks a voice coach feature, community challenges, climate reports, route creation and syncing, geotagging for photos and more. integration with MyFitnessPal (which has its own Apple Watch app), manual post-workout mood tracking and more.

A number of in-app purchases are available for "story runs" and access to personalized training programs.

Nike+ Running

Featured on Apple's Watch minisite, Nike+ Running is one of the more polished non-Apple solutions, with solid run metrics and unique social features pulled from Nike's online community.




During a run, Nike+ Running uses its iPhone counterpart to feed Watch distance calculations and an in-app map for routing purposes. Pace and overall time metrics are also available at a glance.

Users can listen to music by adding tracks to the app's playlist on iPhone, a process also available on Watch via a Force Touch menu. A hard press can also be used to pause or end a run.

For detailed run statistics and access to music and voice coaching functions while on a run, it is recommended that users toggle the "Resume Previous Activity" option in the Apple Watch app for iPhone settings menu under General > Activate on Wrist Raise.

Data is offloaded from Watch to the main iPhone app and Nike's servers, or personalized coaching program if one is selected, as well as Apple's Health app via HealthKit. Post run, users can access leaderboards and previous session statistics directly on Watch, though not at the same level of detail found with Runtastic.

Strava Running and Cycling

Strava Running and Cycling's Watch app is fairly spartan in design as it offers only a few on-device tracking features, but runners may be drawn to the no-nonsense layout and snappy user interface. There are a few apps in this category, but Strava's offering stands out thanks to an iPhone version with deep social integration and comprehensive statistics tracking.




Strava's Watch app can be thought of as a one-way remote for the iPhone app, which touts detailed notes on workouts, run routes, split times and even data from other users. Tapping Watch's screen starts and pauses run tracking, while a status screen reads out elapsed time, distance traveled and pace stats.

A Force Touch menu option ends a run -- or switches sports -- to display a final tally of the metrics above. The finish screen also shows a line drawing representation of the completed route overlaid on a black background.

Syncing with the Strava iPhone app presents detailed information with complete time stats and a proper map view, though higher function features like calorie burn estimates and the app's "Suffer Score" are non existent unless a Bluetooth heart rate monitor was used to track the run. On the plus side, once the information is processed and stored, it can be uploaded to Strava's leaderboards for challenges and personal comparison.

It should be noted that syncing is a finicky process that only offloads data to iPhone when the app is running on both devices. Strava is working on a fix for this and other operational issues.

Apple's Workout app

Those who want the most accurate distance, pace and calorie burn estimates should use Apple's Workout app. Owners are urged to calibrate Watch by taking the device on a run outside with iPhone. The Workout app will draw on iPhone's GPS capabilities to set stride and pace settings on a per-user basis, making distance readings much more accurate.




According to Apple it takes about 20 minutes of walking or running at a normal pace -- during a single workout or accumulated over multiple runs -- to effectively calibrate Watch. Based on this initial data, the device continues to calibrate its internal accelerometer over time. In our tests, out of the box Apple Watch distance estimations were wildly inaccurate for indoor running, but immediately lined up with treadmill readings after outdoor calibration.

Apple's included app offers much of the same run metrics as the third-party apps above, but is the only workout software for Watch with access to the device's heart rate sensor. Incorporating heart rate data opens the door to more accurate calorie burn estimations and continuous workout intensity monitoring. The app syncs all data with Apple's standalone Health and Activity apps for iPhone.

Currently, Apple's first-party Workout app is top dog for Watch owners who need accurate biometric measurements. Third-party titles like Runtastic bring a deeper set of features to the table, but until Apple opens access to Watch's heart rate sensor APIs, Workout will remain the most complete running app available.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    antkm1antkm1 Posts: 1,441member
    "Those who want the most accurate distance, pace and calorie burn estimates should use Apple's Workout app. Owners are urged to calibrate Watch by taking the device on a run outside with iPhone. The Workout app will draw on iPhone's GPS capabilities to set stride and pace settings on a per-user basis, making distance readings much more accurate. "

    I have to shake my head at this. Although I haven't got my watch yet. My girlfriend's watch arrived 2 weeks ago. She has calibrated hers as described and has used it both with and without the iPhone. Comparing it to runkeeper for interval training. She runs every day with the watch. For steps, she has consistently seen the apple activity app register many more steps and far greater distances than run keeper. She also trains with friends who have the garmin watches with GPS. Her distanced on the apple fitness apps have consistently registered ½ mile greater than any other running app or garmin watch. So more accurate? I think not. It's definitely a 1.0 product I keep telling her. She continues to use run keeper.
  • Reply 2 of 17
    morkymorky Posts: 192member
    I love that the loop displayed in Nike is my actual morning running loop around Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
  • Reply 3 of 17

    I've found my apple watch is consistently a quarter mile short on any run over 5 miles. I've run the same routes, I've been previously running with the mapmyrun app and almost all are .24 to .26 miles shorter than what the mapmyrun app has been showing. Oddly enough, I did do a a previous mapmyrun app run that was 4.67 miles and the apple watch app showed 4.61 miles.

  • Reply 4 of 17
    It looks like Runtastic has a good layout/UI, but I will be sticking w/ my Garmin Forerunner GPS 620 device specifically for outside runs/marathons. For treadmill runs and other activities like the stationary bike or elliptical machine, I use a BT chest strap that syncs w/ an app on the iPhone that shows me (and records) what heart rate zone I'm in. The Apple Watch does a lot of things well (I have the space gray sport), but fitness is a basic function with it right now. And for some ppl that's just fine.
  • Reply 5 of 17
    mr. memr. me Posts: 3,221member
    antkm1 wrote: »
    "Those who want the most accurate distance, pace and calorie burn estimates should use Apple's Workout app. Owners are urged to calibrate Watch by taking the device on a run outside with iPhone. The Workout app will draw on iPhone's GPS capabilities to set stride and pace settings on a per-user basis, making distance readings much more accurate. "

    I have to shake my head at this. Although I haven't got my watch yet. My girlfriend's watch arrived 2 weeks ago. She has calibrated hers as described and has used it both with and without the iPhone. Comparing it to runkeeper for interval training. She runs every day with the watch. For steps, she has consistently seen the apple activity app register many more steps and far greater distances than run keeper. She also trains with friends who have the garmin watches with GPS. Her distanced on the apple fitness apps have consistently registered ½ mile greater than any other running app or garmin watch. So more accurate? I think not. It's definitely a 1.0 product I keep telling her. She continues to use run keeper.
    Like you, I have not yet received my watch. However, I am acutely aware of the definition of the term calibrate. To calibrate is to scale the measurement by an instrument to match a known standard. The description of the errors in your girlfriend's ?Watch distance measurements sound like a critical flaw in the calibration procedure. Whether the calibration error was made by your girlfriend by not properly following procedure or by Apple in the calibration procedures that it prescribes, I am not willing to say.
  • Reply 6 of 17
    Unfortunate that you did not test longtime running Runkeeper as well... They have a Watch app as well, don't they?
    I'd be nice if you'd add them to, for they're the most popular I suppose.
  • Reply 7 of 17
    doggonedoggone Posts: 302member

    Good article.  It will be great for the Nike Running app to collect the heart rate.  Hopefully Apple will let that happen soon.  I have tried either the Apple app or the Nike one.  The latter I have used for years and have a lot of data on it.  

    Yesterday I actually ran with both apps running.  The Nike app will map the activity and play my music and I start that off using the iPhone.  I started the running app on my watch and used it primarily to measure the heart rate.  

    Surprisingly it work well and got all the feedback I wanted.  The running app is good because at the end it give your average heart rate plus it is easy to monitor on the run.

    I'm okay with run with the iPhone in my pocket.  I used to have it on an armband which was not very comfortable so this is an improvement for me.

  • Reply 8 of 17
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,399moderator

    Runtastic, Nike+ Running, Strava Running And Cycling, Runkeeper, Apple's Workout App, use whichever one you wish, as long as you're using it on an Apple Watch.  It's my investing portfolio that will continue to be healthy.

  • Reply 9 of 17
    applezillaapplezilla Posts: 941member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mvmaastricht View Post



    Unfortunate that you did not test longtime running Runkeeper as well... They have a Watch app as well, don't they?

    I'd be nice if you'd add them to, for they're the most popular I suppose.



    Runkeeper has been working flawlessly for me. Right now it has very limited functionality. Basically start whatever kind of activity you already have set up in Runkeeper, plus pause, restart, stop, and save.

     

    I've been biking while running Runkeeper and Apple's Workout app, to get data from both. Thinking of trying the Nike app next.

     

    All of these apps will really shine once the native SDK is released.

  • Reply 10 of 17
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by antkm1 View Post



    "Those who want the most accurate distance, pace and calorie burn estimates should use Apple's Workout app. Owners are urged to calibrate Watch by taking the device on a run outside with iPhone. The Workout app will draw on iPhone's GPS capabilities to set stride and pace settings on a per-user basis, making distance readings much more accurate. "



    I have to shake my head at this. Although I haven't got my watch yet. My girlfriend's watch arrived 2 weeks ago. She has calibrated hers as described and has used it both with and without the iPhone. Comparing it to runkeeper for interval training. She runs every day with the watch. For steps, she has consistently seen the apple activity app register many more steps and far greater distances than run keeper. She also trains with friends who have the garmin watches with GPS. Her distanced on the apple fitness apps have consistently registered ½ mile greater than any other running app or garmin watch. So more accurate? I think not. It's definitely a 1.0 product I keep telling her. She continues to use run keeper.

     

    Funny, I have run keeper on the Iphone and its no way close to being that accurate. Everything uses basically the same data coming from the sensors, so the difference between them will slight at best.

     

    The main distance between the watch and the phone, is the phone is carried in a fixed position while the watch being carried on your wrist, it complicates accelerometer readings. But, at the minimum, it would be as accurate as any other watch used on your wrist.

     

    GPS has a +-8m error (at the best of time), so it is only really good to get distances point to point (and average speeds) (especially in cities with poor line of sight), not in transit (so, not good for pace). That's why it is used for calibration and you need to run 20 minutes at a constant pace. That way it matches average speed to the accelerometer readings.

  • Reply 11 of 17
    diegogdiegog Posts: 134member
    It's more likely an issue with her gps/cell tower reception.
    I run several times a week with runkeeper AND the Apple fitness app simultaneously and it's always within .03 miles of each other, AT MOST.

    It wasn't that way the first few times. Took about a week.
    antkm1 wrote: »
    "Those who want the most accurate distance, pace and calorie burn estimates should use Apple's Workout app. Owners are urged to calibrate Watch by taking the device on a run outside with iPhone. The Workout app will draw on iPhone's GPS capabilities to set stride and pace settings on a per-user basis, making distance readings much more accurate. "

    I have to shake my head at this. Although I haven't got my watch yet. My girlfriend's watch arrived 2 weeks ago. She has calibrated hers as described and has used it both with and without the iPhone. Comparing it to runkeeper for interval training. She runs every day with the watch. For steps, she has consistently seen the apple activity app register many more steps and far greater distances than run keeper. She also trains with friends who have the garmin watches with GPS. Her distanced on the apple fitness apps have consistently registered ½ mile greater than any other running app or garmin watch. So more accurate? I think not. It's definitely a 1.0 product I keep telling her. She continues to use run keeper.
  • Reply 12 of 17
    kdstmkdstm Posts: 1member
    Another great third party app that I use a lot is Idealist shopping list. This where the watch comes in handy, I don't have to take out my iPhone and hold it to see my grocery list. Just take a look at the watch and I can see wha't left for me to buy.
    http://www.idealistshopping.com
  • Reply 13 of 17
    susanm53susanm53 Posts: 1member

    I've relied on a Garmin Forerunner 110 for runs and walks for several years (and two other Garmin running watches before that). I've used my new Apple Sport Watch's Workout app on my usual seven-mile course the last two days, and it seems to be just as accurate as the Garmin. Even the steps are pretty much the same as my (now discarded) Nike FuelBand. The one thing the Workout app needs is to show mile splits, which I like for training and depend on in races. Otherwise I'm very impressed with the app AND the Apple Watch!

  • Reply 14 of 17
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 5,016member
    When I got me iPhone 6 and begin using it to track my activities I notice it was wildly off. I've been following the same path for a long time do I know the distance. Over time it did finally calibrate and that steps and distance was right on. When I connected my watch last week and used it for the first time will using it with the iPhone 6 when doing activity I have to say it was also right on. I also checked it against another app I have been using using with my phone to track steps and it correlated. I have not used the watch without the phone connected. I'm not sure if the watch is accurate because the phone it's already calibrated to my pace and stride. I'll have to see how it does without the phone.
  • Reply 15 of 17
    fasttjrfasttjr Posts: 1member
    I'm a big Runtastic fan and have used both the running and cycling apps on my phone for a long time.
    Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the Watch app, yet...
    I, and others on other forums, have noted what appears to be bug related to location tracking that causes rapid battery depletion on the iPhone even when the app isn't being used. My iPhone 6 battery was being fully depleted in about 4 hours without even launching the app on the phone. Checking battery usage in Settings showed that Runtastic was responsible for ~70% of my battery usage since installing the app on my Watch.
    Hard resets of iPhone and Watch did not resolve the issue, but deleting the app from my Watch immediately fixed it. I understand that turning off location services also fixes it, but a running app that can't track your location isn't much good!
    Hopefully Runtastic will squash the bug soon.
  • Reply 16 of 17
    mscathymscathy Posts: 4member
    When I use Runkeeper, I turn off my off my wifi & cellular and put on Do Not Disturb to save my battery. It works!
  • Reply 17 of 17
    I wish Apple would create a condensed view.  It gets really old trying to swipe 3 or 4 times to the left from Heart Rate to average pace.  Back and forth, back and forth....
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