Runkeeper’s New Apple Watch App Lets You Ditch Your iPhone When Tracking Your Runs

With the release of the second version of Apple’s Watch operating system, watchOS 2, apps can be loaded directly onto the device and run natively, instead of being tied to the iPhone. Today, the Runkeeper mobile app, a popular health and fitness tracker with over 45 million worldwide users, has put this new capability to good use: its updated app now lets you ditch your iPhone and track your run using only the Apple Watch instead.

This may seem like a minor update, but in reality it’s a huge improvement over how the Apple Watch app version of Runkeeper used to work. Runkeeper had previously launched an app for the watch back in April when the Watch first launched, but users would still have to strap an iPhone to their arm or keep it in their pocket in order to take advantage of Runkeeper on their wrist.

The new app, however, will let you keep track of your heart rate, pace, distance, and duration without needing to carry around the iPhone. Users can also change the type of fitness activity on the Watch’s screen selecting from running, walking, cycling and more; view a post-workout summary showing how their run went; as well as pause runs using either an on-screen button available via a swipe to the right, or a Force Touch gesture.

Another clever feature in the updated mobile app is “post-run music analytics” – that is, the app works with Spotify, iTunes and Runkeeper DJ to show you which songs you run faster to.

However, there is one caveat to using the new Watch app without its iPhone tether – the Apple Watch doesn’t have built-in GPS, so the app won’t display a map of your run on the Watch app’s activity summary screen. For some Runkeeper users, this could be a deal-breaker – after all, one of the iPhone app’s better features is the ability to log where you ran, including the elevation, in addition to tracking other metrics like distance, time and pace.

“We aren’t currently mapping routes, the current version only includes distance travelled,” explains Runkeeper founder and CEO Jason Jacobs. He also notes that the app uses Apple’s HealthKit to get the fitness data on the Watch.

“Apple doesn’t reveal their formula for tracking this data, but we believe it is through a mix of M8 (motion) and Wi-Fi,” he says. “It is pretty accurate, and even more so if you pair with phone a few times on runs up front to calibrate.” (This is why Runkeeper suggests users run with both devices a handful of times before going Watch-only. )

The CEO also says that if a future version of the Apple Watch does include GPS, the app will be ready at that time to add a mapping function. In the meantime, other features that will arrive soon include support for pace charts, split times, and heart-rate zones.

With the update, Runkeeper will no longer work on Apple Watch devices still on watchOS 1, however. So if you want to continue to use Runkeeper on your wrist, you’ll need to update to the new watchOS 2, then download the new app from the iTunes App Store here.