RunKeeper Sees Apple Health Moves as “Both Scary and Exciting”
If you’re an independent mobile developer, big Apple product announcements are more than just a passing curiosity—entire companies can be dramatically boosted or quickly crippled by the huge company’s decisions.
One of those watching the developments closely was Jason Jacobs, the CEO of fitness-tracking startup RunKeeper. And he had plenty to digest.
Jacobs’ Boston-based company, one of the original success stories of the iPhone app ecosystem, helps millions of users collect data on their jogging, walking, and bike-riding trips. Last year, it rolled out a separate app called Breeze, aimed at nudging less-sporty types to walk more throughout the day.
That’s put RunKeeper on a sort of collision course with Apple, which is getting more heavily involved in its customers’ health data.
The new version of iOS detailed today will have a centralized health app that can help people track their weight, heart rate, and calorie intake throughout the day.
Apple’s long-rumored smartwatch, which includes motion and heart-rate sensors along with the ability to pair with the iPhone’s distance-tracking tools, has its own pre-loaded “Workout” app that offers many basic fitness-tracking features.
“Having a company like Apple proclaim that health and fitness is an important strategic category for their business is both scary and exciting,” Jacobs says. “Scary because it means the innovation bar is very high, but exciting because Apple commits to a category only when it is poised to become truly mainstream.”
Jacobs says the “basic tracking of fitness activity is becoming table stakes,” something made very clear by Apple’s latest announcements that put fitness tracking at the heart of its new wearable device and operating system.
That means outside developers have to work harder to win over valuable customers of their own. RunKeeper, for example, has incorporated specialized training plans and marketing “rewards” from other companies to sweeten the deal for its own users.
“The issue is that tracking on its own is not enough—keeping people engaged and motivated in a sustained way is the hard and important part,” Jacbos says. “We help people stay engaged and motivated in a personalized way, and a big part of that strategy is integrating with Apple Watch and other emerging wearables as they continue to become available.”
He also notes that the Apple Watch, priced starting at $350, probably won’t be a mass-market device, “but we do see it as a powerful extension of the mobile fitness experience for those who adopt it.” The fact that it needs to connect with the iPhone’s GPS and WiFi sensors to track distances doesn’t make the Apple Watch a major standalone fitness device, either.
In any case, Apple’s moves further into fitness data aren’t spooking RunKeeper away from working with the behemoth.
“The ecosystem is important to them, and we are confident that this will continue to be the case. After all, they have mapping and that didn’t stop companies like Waze (and Google Maps) from innovating on the platform; they have photo-taking but there is Instagram,” he says. “We think fitness will be no different.”
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