FitnessKeeper Is Making Its $10 iPhone App Free…For One Day

Here’s an interesting little story about a local mobile software developer and the vagaries of working with Apple. At several recent events around town, I’ve run into a fellow named Jason Jacobs. He’s the founder of FitnessKeeper, a Boston startup that released a fitness app for the iPhone back in August. Called RunKeeper, the app uses the iPhone 3G’s GPS chip to track your progress as you run, walk, or bike around town; it shows how far you’ve gone, tracks your speed, and shows your route on a map, much like the fitness programs available for some dedicated GPS units (and much like Nike’s Sports Kit).

RunKeeper Pro, a new ad-free version of this app available starting today, will normally sell for $9.99 in the iTunes App Store. (A re-released version of the free, ad-supported app is also available.) But because of the way FitnessKeeper’s business model has evolved, combined with a complicated set of requirements imposed by Apple, the pro version of the app will also be free if you get it today (January 14)—tomorrow it goes back to $9.99.

RunKeeper Screen ShotJacobs recounts much of the story of just how this funny circumstance arose here in the RunKeeper blog.  It’s a somewhat complicated tale, and I won’t try to reproduce it here, but it’s worth a read, as it raises interesting questions about the relative merits of free and paid apps—for their producers and their users—and highlights the difficulties that nimble young companies are having working within the confines of the Apple’s licensing system and the App Store’s quirks.

The crux of the matter for Jacobs was how to get the new pro version of the app into the hands of early adopting users who had paid $9.99 for the original version back in the summer, before FitnessKeeper released its first free, ad-supported version—without making those users pay another $9.99. (Full disclosure, I was an early customer myself.) In the end, because of a tangle of licensing rules and e-commerce limitations at the App Store, the only way to do this was to make the app free to everyone for the first 24 hours.

“We are forgoing a ton of download revenue tomorrow,” Jacobs told me in an e-mail last night. But “we are doing so to do make sure we do right by our initial core users.”

So, if you’re a fitness freak, or if you just enjoy GPS-type applications and you’d like to have a map of your strolls around town, go to the iTunes App Store today and download RunKeeper Pro for free. Jacobs says he hopes the one-day promotion will come back to benefit the company in the form of exposure and good publicity, but he’s also looking forward to tomorrow, when the pricing goes back to normal. “Now that this licensing issue is (almost) behind us, and we will have a sustainable business model in place, it should be much smoother sailing from here on out,” he writes.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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