Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Track your running and cycling via your cellphone?

In less than a week's time, the new Garmin Forerunner 205 and 305 GPS running watches are supposedly hitting the stores, and I'm all set to take the plunge. I've already sold off my Polar S610 heart rate monitor (HRM) and prepping my Forerunner 201 for sale as well. The only things to decide now are whether to purchase the Forerunner 205 or the 305 with the HRM functionality, and where to buy it. Decisions, decisions.

On the topic of GPS and running, I always thought it made a lot of sense to combine distance monitoring capabilities into a handset that had a GPS chip, especially for those runners, hikers and cyclist who like to carry a phone for safety purposes.

Looks like someone else had the same idea as the Austin American-Statesman reports that Austin-based startup, Bones in Motion, has unveiled "a new add-on service for cell phones to help athletes monitor their running and cycling activity." The service "uses GPS technology to track data, including distance, speed and pace," and will be offered to Sprint Nextel customers for $9.99 a month.

According to Bones in Motion, the "service lets runners, walkers and cyclists record in real time the distance, speed and pace, location, elevation and calories burned for outdoor activities. Users also can program their phones to alert them with a ring tone when they have completed a mile."

The interface on the phone also "lets users see a performance summary, activity maps and speed and elevation charts. The data can be uploaded wirelessly to a personal online Web portal, where users can view their activities, save and compare them with previous entries and share information, such as running routes, with other Bones in Motion users."

According to the company, "Twenty-million runners and cyclists work out three times a week in the U.S," so they are targeting a nice demographic. Even though I like the idea of putting this type of capability in a handset and the flash demo looks cool, I'm not as sure about the prospects for this location based service.

Features, accuracy and usability will be key as well as availability on a variety of handsets. Right now it only works on 5 clamshell handsets from Sprint Nextel, although I'm sure they'll add more carriers and handsets in the future. One key issue is whether people will go out of their way to purchase a handset just to use the service.

Another concern I have is from a privacy standpoint. Via the bimactive website, if you want, you can share your training routes and activities with others. If you're like me and start your runs (or rides) from your house, I'm wouldn't want others to know where I live (via the maps) nor what routes I regularly use. But that's just me and this is not just directed at Bones in Motion, but pertains to all web-based services that allow users to share training routes, such as Motionbased.

My biggest complaint is the cost. Call me cheap, but I'm not the biggest fan of mobile subscription services right now. They all seem too expensive. I have a hard time believing Bones in Motion is going to get a lot of folks to shell out almost 10 bucks a month or roughly $120 a year for the sake of tracking their running and cycling efforts via their handset. Add in the cost of the carrier data plan, plus if you need to purchase a specific handset then it gets to be an even more expensive proposition.

I guess it all comes down to usage model (rent vs buy) and whether you want to use a converged device or dedicated single purpose one. At this point in time and in this specific case, I prefer the dedicated device, because it gives me more flexibility to choose what I want to purchase, both in terms of distance monitoring watches as well as handsets. Plus I can lend the device out to friends and can always sell the device(s) when I upgrade or switch. Am I missing anything?