Fitness apps have exploded over the past two years. You can find one to count calories, to track steps, to measure heart rate, to get training exercises, to gain lifestyle advice, and a lot more. There are new needs and newer apps by the day.
While those pursuing fitness through outdoor activities like running, rowing, biking, and swimming among others have the luxury of groups or peers, those running on a treadmill at home or inside the gym might often lack motivation and drive to reach a goal, thus reducing their pursuit of fitness to a lonely, boring and unfulfilled ‘exercise’.
RunSocial steps in right there and makes indoor fitness more interesting, more colorful, and most importantly, more social. It is a mixed reality app, currently iOS-only, that uses 3D videos and live interactions to enable users to run virtually through 15 real-world locations. You can create your own avatar and run with others (avatars), and interact with fellow runners in real-time. ALSO READ: The Fastrack Reflex looks good and gets the basics right, but falls short in some ways
The app allows you to download and select routes, set up run events with friends, and hold live interactions. You can do a short “test run” to get the feel of each route before opting to purchase the entire route. Some of the popular routes include California’s Death Valley, the Swiss Alps, Bali Villages, and Prague Digital Marathon. Routes cost anywhere between $1.99 and $9.99 depending on their length.
The brainchild of Marc Hardy and Andrew Frank, RunSocial was founded in 2014 with the aim of better engaging runners and making the experience a social one. Hardy believes that social fitness is the next big trend in the sector.
In fact, sports brands like Nike and Adidas have also identified social group running as their fastest growth segment. Nike+ even has a feature that allows runners to hear crowds cheering for them while they run. That is not only motivating but also exhilarating. Moreover, it has been proven that the use of avatars and interactions with fellow runners can significantly reduce depression and anxiety in sufferers.
But most fitness apps haven’t been able to go beyond data still. Hardy, CEO of the Singapore-headquartered RunSocial, concurs. “Technology that enables data tracking and connectivity has made big strides thanks in large part, I think, to the smart phone economy. Social is the logical extension beyond data,” he tells BGR India.
RunSocial, in fact, came about in a “wouldn’t it be cool if…” moment shared between Hardy and his co-founder, Frank. Wouldn’t it be cool if treadmill runners could sample the great outdoors? Wouldn’t it be cool if treadmill runners could run with a group? Wouldn’t it be cool if treadmill runners could participate in marathons? “No other GPS running app enables people to run with each other virtually live,” claims Hardy.
In fact, RunSocial needn’t be for runners only; two geographically distant friends could use it for a live virtual walk-and-talk. Parents could share their morning walks with their children stationed elsewhere. That essentially adds another dimension and elevates RunSocial to something more than just a fitness app. ALSO READ: Nike+ Running iOS app now allows listening to music from Spotify
“Fitness apps are mostly data-oriented and it’s great that there are many quality data tracking solutions because data is wonderfully helpful. However, data is not enough to motivate many for a sustained period and even those that do value data could have more fun if there are suitable experiences that can be easily accessed,” explains Hardy.
If users do not have a satisfactory experience via their iPhone or Apple watch owing to the limited screen size, they can make it bigger by linking their Apple device to a TV screen. The screens are then duplicated, the TV starts displaying their video route, and the device becomes a control panel. It is almost like PlayStation for running.
But how has adoption been thus far, given a ‘mixed reality fitness app’ isn’t as simple as a data tracker? Hardy refuses to share country-specific numbers but says that US is RunSocial’s biggest market. “Our monthly users are in thousands rather than millions but it’s growing. Most of our users are in the US but we get a healthy distribution of users from around the world,” he says.
And how does he plan to monetize the so-called next big trend in fitness? RunSocial is a free app on the App Store currently and only charges users for additional services like full routes. “Like many apps, freemium is a model that enables people to enjoy our experience for free but pay for added experiences if they want more,” says Hardy.
One mode of monetization is partnerships that RunSocial has formed with treadmill manufacturers in the US riding on ‘TreadTracker’ — a treadmill tracking accessory that can be attached to any treadmill. It streams accurate, real-time speed data to your Apple device while you run on the treadmill. With Bluetooth ‘On’ in your Apple device, you can select ‘Treadmill Connect’ in the Speed Tracking menu of the RunSocial app. And the treadmill is paired with the Apple device. ALSO READ: Apple Watch leads wearable tech market in Q1 2017, fitness band hits first ever decline: Report
The key for RunSocial is to expand such partnerships across the globe and also tap into more revenue-generating opportunities in running groups, marathon organizers, and so on. One such association was with Virgin Money London Marathon in 2016, where a digital HD version of the iconic London route had been produced allowing users to train on the course and even live-run on the big day.
“By enabling running events to scale beyond the usual geographical, spatial and financial constraints, this could benefit not only the runners themselves, but also event sponsors, charity organizations and spectators… Multiple commercial applications could be made possible with the RunSocial technology from outdoor fitness such as biking and rowing, to games, to social shopping, to discovery and tours, to interactive advertising,” one of RunSocial’s earliest investors had reportedly said.
But how does it excite the Indian market that may not be as fitness-conscious as the rest of the world? Surely, running is picking up in the country, but is it ripe for a mixed reality fitness app? Hardy is optimistic.
“Running seems to be a fast growing activity in many markets so there is plenty of exciting opportunities for growth. Obviously, it’s important to have localization of your app where you can and we are in a number of languages beyond English,” he says. “Also, our events platform could be used as a motivator for someone to do a run that might not normally do and the cool thing is it doesn’t matter where they are, they can still join in,” he adds.
When are you joining the run-wagon?