How are your New Year's resolutions looking? Oh dear. Here are some apps to help you get back on track with that fitness regime.
Nike has had a long-standing relationship with Apple dating back to 2006. The original Nike+ app was included in a number of devices such as the iPod Nano, the iPod Touch and the iPhone. More recently, Nike has released the Nike+ GPS app, which, as the name suggests, is designed to take advantage of the GPS capabilities in the iPhone.
It's not built in to the device, like the original Nike+, but as it uses GPS there is no need to purchase a separate sensor to place in the heel of a Nike shoe or a pouch as with other brands. Theoretically, this should make the calculation of distance and pace far more accurate as it does not rely on an arbitrary calculation on stride length.
You do need line of sight with the satellites, so tunnels or gym work cannot easily be tracked. On the open road is where this app really shows its muscle as it tracks and records your route.
Additionally, if you want to share your route with other users you may do so, as well as seeing what routes other Nike+ GPS users are taking. You can set up the app to automatically tweet and update your Facebook status with your latest run. If any of your friends respond via Facebook or Twitter while you're on your run, you will automatically get a cheer or an 'attaboy', which is a fun touch.
The website has a number of coaching programmes to follow. Perhaps you're training for a 5k, 10k, half marathon or full marathon - whichever it is, there's a plan you can choose from and track. You can even have a virtual race with other users. Overall, it's a great running log, progress tracker and motivation tool - particularly for beginners.
If your main interest is tracking where you go and how fast, the My Tracks app for Android does the job effectively and simply. As well as your device's GPS, it can connect to a variety of other sensors, such as Bluetooth heart rate monitors and SRM power and cadence meters for bicycles, as long as your phone is compatible with them.
You can review the data it gathers as you go along, or save it to your Google Maps or docs account for analysis later. You can publish your activity to Facebook or Twitter – and it is an open-source project, so if you think it is lacking some particular feature the opportunity is there to join the project team and add it.
A couple of interesting features are the ability to set different colours for different speed bands, so you can see how your route differs as you go along, and the ability to set waypoints plus automated voice announcements to tell you how you are getting on. Plus, it reports your average speed while moving as well as your average speed overall, which is useful if you have to stop along the way.
My Tracks also offers a broad range of GPS settings, enabling you to tailor these to your activity. This can be helpful at lower speeds because commercial GPS is not all that accurate – even more so if the weather or limited visibility results in poor signal strength – so if you take position readings too rapidly your track may appear a lot more meandering than it actually is.
Instant Heart Rate
Free Ad-Supported Or €0.79
For full heart-rate tracking while exercising you will need a relatively expensive external sensor, but if all you need is to check your pulse after a workout, Instant Heart Rate is a clever piece of software that will do the job for free, as long as you don't mind a few adverts.
Available for Android and iPhone, it uses your mobile's built-in camera to track colour changes in the fingertip that are directly linked to your pulse. This is the same technique that medical pulse oximeters use and it is remarkably accurate. It works best if the phone also has an LED flash, but can also be used without flash if the ambient lighting is reasonably good.
To use it you start the app, place your fingertip over the camera lens and wait while the flash comes on. In a few seconds the app will start calculating your pulse rate while showing you a graph of your heartbeat in real time.
Readings can be saved to a timeline on the phone or online, and the app also offers brief advice on what your heart rate ought to be – of course the start point varies from person to person, but essentially the fitter you get the lower your heart rate will be for a given workout.
Personal fitness is about more than just exercise, and iMapMy attempts to do it all – and to do it socially at that. As well as tracking anything from a gym session to a country walk, it can support you in calorie counting, and it can tell your friends how you are doing and challenge them to do better.
The main MapMyFitness app is available for Android, iPhone and the iPod Touch, as are subsets specific to runners, hikers and so on which may well be worth choosing if you focus on one particular activity. The running and cycling versions are also available for BlackBerry.
Like many fitness apps, it can be used independently but it is primarily intended to be linked to a MapMyFitness website account. It can also link to a Fitbit or Nike+ account, and it can upload tracking data from a Garmin GPS or one of a variety of recreational heart rate monitoring devices.
The mobile app has two main roles: to track your route, distance, speed and more in real time using your device's GPS, and as a handy way to record what you eat. Once you have completed a route you can save it online, which will also calculate the calories burned and credit these against your daily budget. Because the developer's tag-line is "Socialise your fitness", MapMyFitness+ can post a note about your activity to Facebook and Twitter.
The website adds a number of other features that may be useful to the dedicated, such as downloadable maps and training plans. It also encourages you to become part of a community, with various challenges such as running 100 miles over 30 days.
The app and website can be used without subscription, in which case you will get adverts on both and must pay for downloads. Alternatively, there are ad-free premium subscriptions at rates from $30 to $100 a year.
There are a few minor caveats. One is that you have to end the workout completely to see calories burned, as the app does not tell you how many calories you are burning as you exercise. Another is that while the main parts of the website are switchable between Imperial and metric, much of the nutrition section is user-generated. Many of the listed foods are US-specific and the portions can be unhelpful - how much is "2 pieces" of plain chocolate, for example?
Overall, though, iMapMy offers the dedicated and the stats junkie alike a rich experience, plus a social aspect that could be the key to achieving those weight loss and fitness goals.