Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Track Runner v4 with Heart Rate Monitor Support and SensorCore Integration

We are incredibly excited to announce the latest version of Track Runner has just gone live. Before I go into explaining all the new features, thank you to our amazing team who worked so hard on this update. Our last update was extremely well received, but we wanted to make this one even better, and I think we achieved that.

We do get a lot of Feedback, and we enjoy reading every single piece and responding to it. One particular request we see all the time is heart rate monitor (HRM) support. We absolutely get it – heart rate helps runners understand their performance level and allows for a much more focused training experience. Truth of the matter is, we simply couldn’t offer broad heart rate monitor support due to technical restrictions in Windows Phone 8.0, but we certainly designed the app with this feature in mind.

Thankfully, with Windows Phone 8.1, this is a thing of the past. We are now able to support Bluetooth 4.0 heart rate monitors. Strictly speaking any such monitor should work, but we do have a list of tested devices in our new knowledgebase. To be clear, on Nokia phones you’ll also need the Cyan update to use heart rate monitor support, but thankfully that is rolling out quickly. See this page on Nokia’s website for more information on Cyan availability.

We thought very hard and long how we could make heart rate data as awesome an experience as possible. And this is what we came up with:

  • customizable heart rate zones: you don’t have to know exact bpm values to train efficiently. Just browse the 5 heart rate zones (settings – heartrate) to see which ones you want to utilize in your training and voice notification will help you stay “in the zone”. If you know your max and/or resting heart rate you can make the zones fit you even better.
  • post-training analysis: beside giving your average bpm and max heart rate of your run, we integrated heart rate into the pacer graph so you can see how much stress that crazy fast mile put onto your system. We also provide your average heart rate split by split.
  • Cardio Map: If you trained with your HRM the diary will now show a Cardio Map after your training. The route appears in the colors of the heart rate zones so you can see which parts you ran in which zone. And if you think that’s neat why not share the map on social networks? Because you can!
  • statistics page: it’s been a long time coming but the ominous “?” is gone and replaced by your average heart rate – with time span selection as usual
  • gear: heart rate monitors are completely integrated into gear tracking so you can track their mileage. You can also set your default HRM. For information on your HRM’s battery level just pause the run from any run screen.

 

Trackrunner.v4-SC-9.Settings TrackRunner.v4-SC5.1.DiaryTop TrackRunner.v4-SC.1.Track_Run TrackRunner.v4-SC.8.Gear

Here’s a big screenshot of the Cardio Map that can be shared to social networks (you’ll need the Twitter Beta to share to Twitter, the current release version of Twitter does not support Windows Phone 8.1’s new sharing features we’re taking advantage of).

TrackRunner.CardioMap 

The diary’s much improved landscape modus:

TrackRunner.v4-SC.6.DiaryHeartRateAndPace

At this point we expect you to say “wow”. But that’s not all: This update also includes support for Nokia / Microsoft’s SensorCore technology, enabling Track Runner to use motion data during your run. Obviously you’ll need a SensorCore enabled phone for these features, but the good news is that the new Lumia 635 and Lumia 630 cost less than $100! We’ve been testing with these devices for a few weeks, and we really like them. They’re great for running and definitely recommended. So, what kind of motion data are we talking?

  • Cadence Analysis: Being able to count steps means that we can compute your stride rate. That’s great news for runners, since increasing the stride rate can help minimize injuries. A good stride rate should be around 180 (but you may want to check with your orthopedist). We found the data to be very reliable, as long as the phone is inside a pocket. Armbands are discouraged.
  • Cadence Analysis is completely integrated into Gear tracking – allowing you to compare your stride rate on different shoes to help you decide which ones are best. To make sure that interval training – you may stop or walk during rest phases – does not skew the data, we’ve made sure to exclude interval training workout from average stride rate computations for shoes.
  • Auto-Pause and Auto-Resume: Pauses your run after 5-10s of inactivity. This works great at traffic lights, but to trigger it you need to completely stop running. Jogging in place will not trigger Auto-Pause. The run is automatically resumed once you’re running again (this takes about 20 meters / 20 yards.) We’re hoping to improve this a little bit with further updates, but once you remember to not move for a few seconds, it works great.

There is so much to this update, and the last few weeks we’ve been exclusively testing. We believe the app is very stable now, but if you do encounter some problems, please let us know via the in-app feedback form or at http://trackrunner.uservoice.com. Clicking the green question mark on the bottom right of this page will also get the job done.

Lastly, all of these features are available for free. There’s no catch – no in-app purchase, no ads, no terribly annoying rating reminders. We don’t compromise, and neither should you, so give Track Runner a go if you’re not already using it. If you like the app, please leave a 5-star rating on the Windows Phone Store.

Thank you.

Sarah & The App Cauldron Team

Sunday, July 20, 2014

We care about your opinion - give us feedback on uservoice

We love to hear from you, whether it be praise or suggestions on how to make Track Runner even better. If you have this crazy awesome idea for Track Runner (or maybe for another app we should make?) you can tell us all about it at trackrunner.uservoice.com. Even more convenient: Click the question mark at the bottom right of this blog and submit your idea or feedback in two quick steps.

We will build on our knowledge base as we go along and you'll be able to find lots of helpful info as well as tips and tricks there. But even better, you'll be able to vote up your ideas to let us know what's the next hot feature you urgently need in Track Runner.

So, have a browse and tell us what you think!

Thank you for training with Track Runner.

The App Cauldron Team

Friday, May 30, 2014

Track Runner Version 3.0 brings Interval Trainer and Pacer

We are very excited to announce that version 3.0 of Track Runner just went live, bringing interval workouts and a lot more. So for those of you that can’t wait – get it here: http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=95c6a10c-84a7-4c26-98eb-5d6b9df93698. So, what’s new in this update?

Intervals:

There are a lot of activity trackers, but we wanted to turn Track Runner into your personal running coach. Does your coach babble on about your training being “half way done” when in fact you are sitting on a park bench and having an ice cream? (I wouldn’t want that as my coach!) The new intervals feature in Track Runner analyses your performance during your training and gives you voice cues to speed up or slow down so you train at the right level.

Preset are four interval workouts for different skill levels that adjust to your progress. But you can just create your own custom training in a few taps. Combinations are endless (figuratively speaking) with distance and time based intervals and adjustable intensity.

After your interval workout you can analyze your performance in your diary which shows you an interval by interval breakdown on how you have done.

TrackRunnerScreenshotIntervalTraining TrackRunnerScreenshotCreateTraining 9IntervalAnalysis

PacerTrackRunnerScreenshotPacer

Pacer is a neat feature that I can personally see replacing freestyle runs most of the time. If you want to run 5k in 28 minutes for example, the pacer guides you through your run so that you keep running at a constant speed and don’t steam ahead in the beginning and are too exhausted in the end. It is great for improving your personal best. Advanced runners can enable negative splits, an effective strategy to improve race times and train energy conservation.

 

Redesign part 2:

We also continued redesigning the user interface. From diary to stats we made sure that entries are easy to read and pleasant to look at. The Performance Genius also got a facelift and countless other pages a bit of a tidy.

DIary1 Diary2 DIary5

8GeniusMisc. and bug fixes:

Finally, a few more tweaks: you can now challenge a friend via social networks to beat your record once you set one. We expanded the Help/FAQ section with useful tips about the new features as well as syncing runs and GPX import/export. We  fixed some bugs and improved stability. For example, if you had problems with your records being off or returning –8s after you imported a run from another tracking app into Track Runner, recalculating them (settings – general) will fix this issue.

We hope you’ll enjoy trying out our new features and are always happy to hear from you if you have any questions or suggestions.

Happy running!

Sarah & The App Cauldron Team

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fitness Is in the Air – The App Cauldron Celebrating #MobileFit Month

Our friends from WP Central declared June to be #MobileFit month and our App Cauldron team is tackling the challenge head-on.

To give June a run for its money expect a Track Runner update end of May! Much thinking, tinkering, coding and testing has gone into this one but it is well worth it we think. We’ll get into the details once the update is published but let me promise you this: it answers our most popular feature request and in many way surpasses expectations. More soon.

While we finish up and put our last testing in – beautiful running weather here in Boston – we also look ahead. We are currently working on two more fitness apps that will sweeten MobileFit month for the more casual fitness/wellness junkie. Working with cutting edge software in cooperation with Microsoft, the apps will put soon to be released Windows Phone technology to maximum use.

Testing with all our phones

While Microsoft is kindly promoting Track Runner in its Windows Phone stores we’ll also be active spreading the word at the Heartbreak Hill Festival and in cooperation with local running groups. But of course we know that most of you out there have an iPhone or an Android device and I stopped counting “Is the app available for …” when it reached 3 figures. With that in mind and convinced that runners will benefit from Track Runner’s newest features, we have built up a small fleet of test devices. So if you don’t have a Windows Phone but would like to test the app – for example to blog about it - please shoot us an email on “TestTrackRunner@theappcauldron.com”.

Be active – not just in June – and enjoy training with Track Runner!

Sarah and The App Cauldron Team

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rating Reminder v A Hungry Child in the Backseat

I hate rating reminders. Let me repeat that: I hate rating reminders. I hear you ask “But aren’t you a developer? Surely you want your users to give you feedback?”. Sure yes, and we do have a gentle reminder ourselves (which you won’t see unless you actually use Track Runner). But a recent trend in the Windows Phone World, fuelled by Microsoft’s decision to include ratings in the store ranking algorithm, is to be as pushy as possible. I installed one app today and updated another one. Each greeted me with “Rate me!”.*

What is worse is their persistence. If i don’t want to rate an app, I don’t want to rate it. Unfortunately, the “No thanks” button usually leads to a “Can we make it better?” question. (A: Yes – remove that annoying reminder please.) Tapping that away leaves me breathing space until the next launch… somehow this reminds me of early 00s style websites that you couldn’t close without going through 10 silly popups asking you whether you’re sure you want to leave.

I understand these developers; Being far up in the search results is critical to the success of an app, and with rating quantity and quality both being a factor for search position, those ratings may translate to real-life dollars and euros. I wonder though what users think of this – my guess is that they don’t like the constant reminders.

I think Microsoft should play the grown-up here who puts an end to overly annoying reminders. Maybe the OS could determine the time you spend with an app and handle the rating reminders instead of the app itself. That would level the playing field a bit and users would hopefully find this a much nicer experience that the current rate me craze.

*: I resisted the urge to give them 1 star for being annoying.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Track Runner v. 2.0

I am thrilled to announce that Track Runner’s major update has just been submitted and will be out shortly. AppListWhiteBG

As this is a  significant update both on the content and design front we’re going to give you a proper walkthrough video soon. For now, let’s take a sneak peek at the new look and features you’ll be able to enjoy.

We’ve expanded Track Runner’s statistics, now offering elevation profile, weather data, and a first glance view of your most recent achievements.

We’ve revamped the run screens which now feature a battery saving option as well as the large and small map screens. When pausing the run, an easy to navigate menu offers quick help and access to all the necessary run settings among other features.

Most notable in this context is our coolest new social feature: live tracking. You can send your friends a link via facebook or text message and they can follow your run and even cheer you on while you’re running. Messages are read out to you via voice notifications as you go so it’s a guaranteed motivator. Speaking of motivation: if live cheering doesn’t get you on the track, maybe our new live tile with gentle reminders will do the trick.

Another neat new feature is gear tracking. This allows you to track your mileage on your shoes or other running gear. Once you’ve added your gear, the app will keep track of additional mileage automatically while you watch in amazement how well your favorite running shoes are holding up. 

It wouldn’t be an update without plenty of bug fixes and we want to sincerely thank you for giving us great feedback to keep improving our app. Thanks to your input, we considerably improved handling, language support, stability, and support on low memory devices.

TwitterIconLast but not least, we’ve completely redesigned Track Runner and think we’ve achieved a much sleeker, calmer UI experience. Special thanks goes to Emily Theis for our new app tile and some font guidance. We also thank Arturo Toledo (whom much of our run screen redesign is owed to) for keeping us “on the grid.” :)

I hope you like our new look and are looking forward to exploring the new features as well. For those who aren’t yet using Track Runner there’s even better news: the app is now completely free and still without annoying advertisement or sign up requirements. So, what are you waiting for? GET! IT! NOW! http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=95c6a10c-84a7-4c26-98eb-5d6b9df93698

                                     The App Cauldron Team

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Quantity v Quality in App Stores (Part 1)

Apple, Google and Microsoft all brag about the number of apps in their respective stores. Today, at DVLUP Day New York City in front of a crowd of 250 aspiring WP8 developers, Nokia shared that 400K apps developed by (apparently) 450K developers* made it into the Windows Phone Store to date (see https://twitter.com/dvlup/status/447363457336111104/photo/1). In absolute terms, this does not compare well to Google’s & Apple’s 1 million+ apps, but in relative terms the Windows Phone platform improved from about 20% to about 40% the number of apps available in the iOS Store over the last year. (All numbers from PR releases and Wikipedia).

At first glance, that is good news for both users and developers in the Windows Phone ecosystem: Users benefit from a wider app selection, happy users lead to greater adaption and thus more downloads for developers. So – with such a rich app selection, and virtually every paid app on Windows Phone offering a free trial, we should expect to see a high number of downloads per app? Unfortunately not. In November 2013 (http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/20/windows-phone-now-sees-10m-transactions-and-500-new-apps-daily-has-served-3b-total-downloads/), Microsoft announced 3 billion downloads. That was four months ago, and with 16 million daily downloads today the number should now be at most 5 billion. That equates to less than 12,500 downloads per app, which is less than a quarter of Apple’s & Google Play’s north of 50,000.

Surprised? If you looked at the Windows Phone store recently, you may have noticed that many of the 400.000 apps just aren’t very good. There are some great Windows Phone apps out there, beautifully designed and packed with amazing features. But many others really shouldn’t be there and Microsoft should never have let them into the store. We’re guilty too – we recently published a bunch of apps for the DVLUP NFC challenge. The sole purpose was to test a few app ideas and collect DVLUP XP at the same time. Don’t check them out, they’re of no use without an NFC tag (of limited use even with one) and will be taken offline soon. Many apps on Windows Phone are plainly awful. They are either terribly designed and constantly crashing or the 700th Flappy Bird clone.

Compare this with iOS – from amazing utility apps to awesome games, most apps are great. Well designed, thought through, well developed and tested. Trainyard, Notability, Doodle Jump, Instagram, Snapchat and so on were all initially designed for iOS, and while some of them are now available on WP8, the gems in the making are likely developed on iOS and perhaps Android. That’s a shame, because Windows Phone is a superbly designed OS that runs great on lower cost hardware, is very easy to develop for and for most parts provides excellent documentation and a friendly developer community.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll look at what attracts quality developers (Hint: paying $100 to each developer publishing an app it is not), why Microsoft’s in-app ad solution is an insult to developers and why we here at the App Cauldron develop for Windows Phone.

(* More developers than apps suggest a few may have registered for different purposes. Perhaps because installing cracked apps via http://www.g***s-wpd.com & co requires a WP developer Account?)