FitnessKeeper Announcement Gives New Meaning to “Scalable”

I caught up the other day with Jason Jacobs, the hyperkinetic founder and CEO of Boston-based FitnessKeeper, which is best known for its RunKeeper GPS fitness-tracking app for the Apple iPhone. That’s no mean feat, as Jacobs is one of those guys who walks the talk—he’s training to run in the Boston Marathon for the second time (whether he’ll do it in an iPhone costume again, he isn’t saying yet).

I wanted to hear more about two recent milestones at FitnessKeeper. The first came last weekend, when FitnessKeeper passed the 1-million-downloads mark with RunKeeper. The second, announced January 11, is that RunKeeper users who happen to own the Wi-Fi-connected BodyScale bathroom scale from Withings (pronounced Why-things) can now track their weight and body-mass index right alongside the online records of their runs at the RunKeeper website.

Jacobs says the RunKeeper-Withings integration is just the first step toward realizing what he calls “the initial vision” for FitnessKeeper—a kind of online fitness data empire, with tracking data coming in from numerous Internet-connected devices, all helping users work toward fitness goals.

On the downloads front, Jacobs says the combined count of iPhone users who have downloaded the free and $9.99 “pro” versions of RunKeeper passed one million last Saturday, January 9. And very soon—this month, Jacobs says—downloads of the free version will pass one million all on their own.

“Those are important numbers because they show the amount of leverage you can get from the iTunes App Store as a platform,” Jacobs says. But an even more significant number, he says, is the count of active users, defined as people who post at least one activity per month to their RunKeeper Web accounts. That number “continues to climb significantly, even through the winter,” which means RunKeeper isn’t one of those apps that people just download and forget.

The iPhone experience has been so important for the company that it will soon announce versions of RunKeeper for other smartphone platforms, Jacobs says. Android phones will probably come first. “We expect that the showdown between iPhone and Android this year is going to be epic,” he says. “I don’t think that either can be underestimated. Anybody that emerges as a viable smartphone competitor, we want to be there and be the leaders.”

But FitnessKeeper’s Withings announcement has bigger implications, overall, than the million-download milestone. If you happen to be a Twitter follower of Bob Metcalfe, the Boston-based venture capitalist and Ethernet co-inventor, then you are already treated to a daily report from Metcalfe’s own Withings scale. (Today’s update: “My weight: 224.7 lb. 46 lb to go. Goal is 179, as in 1979.”) Jacobs says the Withings scale can be programmed to send its data to any online destination—including, now, the RunKeeper website, which will track users’ weigh-ins alongside the record of their runs.

That’s useful not just because it will help RunKeeper users track their weight over time, says Jacobs, but because the RunKeeper app needs up-to-date weight information in order to accurately calculate the number of calories users burn on their runs. And in the near future, the weight data will have many other uses.

“We are going to rolling out, quite soon actually, our first optional premium service,” says Jacobs. “We haven’t said a lot about it yet, but it’s called FitnessReports, and one thing that’s in these reports is powerful charting and analytics around your data. So you can see how your weight data is trending over time, and it can be correlated against other input types, such as weekly mileage or pace, so you can actually gain some insights into how your weight affects your fitness and how your performance affects your weight.”

For example, you might be the kind of person who loses weight faster by going on longer, less frequent runs, as opposed to shorter, more frequent ones. FitnessKeeper’s fitness reports would help you suss out that type of trend, Jacobs says. “It’s intelligence that helps you make meaningful changes to your routine,” he says.

Which gets at the really big picture for FitnessKeeper. From all outward appearances, the startup might appear to be just another iPhone app development house—but Jacobs says that’s just an accidental result of the company’s early product strategy decisions.

“The initial vision was, let’s get the data, no matter what the input is, and build a system to help people achieve specific fitness goals,” says Jacobs. “When the iPhone came along, we said, ‘Wow, this is a really powerful place to start,’ because it enables you to do things that you couldn’t do without these smartphones coming along. But now that we are expanding our reach to other platforms like Android and starting to integrate with other types of devices that give data, like the scale, you can see how we are going to have all kinds of different services wrapped around the data on the Web.” So keep an eye out for more device-integration news from FitnessKeeper.

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

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