Nike+ GPS

by Doc Coleman - Nifty Tech Editor on March 14, 2011 · 24 comments

in iOS, Service

As spring approaches and the weather gets warmer, parts of the world shift to Daylight Savings Time, and many folks turn their minds towards the things that they can do to get themselves into shape. There are a lot of products out there to help you track your diet or your exercise. Some even track both. Most of these tools require you to know what you’ve done in terms of exercise so that you can record it. Today’s review is for a product that watches you while you exercise, tracks your progress, and give you the data you need to put into your other tracking utilities. We’re looking at Nike’s latest tool to end all tools for runners, Nike+ GPS.

Developed by Nike as part of a joint project with Apple, Nike+ GPS takes advantage of the Location Services built into the iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPod Touch, and presumably all future iThings. Displacing the Nike+ iPod software, Nike+ GPS doesn’t need a sensor hidden in the bottom of a shoe in order to track your progress. Instead it uses Apple’s GPS and Cell Tower tracking technologies from the Location Services toolkit. And while this approach may lead to some unpredictable results on rainy or cloudy days, overall it tends to produce more accurate results than relying on the Nike+ iPod sensor. The current version of Nike+ GPS is 3.0.1, and it is available from the Apple iTunes Store for $1.99.

The software keeps track of the number of individual runs you have taken using a particular device, while Nike’s Nike+ service tracks all the runs a person has made with all their devices. Nike’s core audience are runners, so each exercise is referred to as a “run”, no matter what activity the person is actually engaging in. When testing earlier versions of the software, I sometimes would start a “run” when going to a craft fair, and keep track of how far I walked during the hours of shopping. Nike+ didn’t care if I was running, walking, or idly browsing craft booths. It happily recorded my activity, counted my calories and my distance, and my total time. While the old Nike+ iPod would sometimes end a run if you stood still too long, or if it could no longer find the sensor, Nike+ GPS doesn’t have this problem.

While the software still isn’t perfect, Nike has built off what they’ve learned with the Nike+ iPod software and had made effective use of the iPhone screen. One can tailor your profile to accurately describe your particulars, aiding the software to accurately define your stride and level of effort. While Nike+ starts you out with a generic profile, you can re-calibrate the system as you go to better reflect your personal stride. Most runs can be used for calibration, providing you maintain a reasonably consistent stride through the entire run. Most importantly, to use a run for calibration you must know the exact distance traveled. For best results, I recommend finding a local track that you can use for a calibration run. Nike does not recommend using a treadmill for calibration, although they do claim to support using the Nike+ GPS on a treadmill. I haven’t been able to do any tests of this nature yet, so I can’t really comment one way or the other.

In addition to customizing how the Nike+ GPS calibrates your stride, you can adjust how it measures your distance, tracking your progress in either miles or kilometers, and you can adjust the software’s display so that it is most readable while the iPhone is in your favorite arm band, or however you choose to carry the device during a run.

For those who listen to music during their runs, Nike lets you choose a number of “Powersongs” that can be invoked at a touch of a button to give you an extra boost when you most need it. I haven’t actually played with this feature, as I prefer listening to podcasts as I exercise and working out my mind along with my body.

When starting a run, one selects one of three types, a Basic run, where the Nike+ simply records your progress and lets you go however far or long you want to, or a Time or Distance run, where one sets a goal in terms of a total time or distance traveled, where Nike+ also lets you know when you’ve met your halfway point, and gives you added encouragement when you’re near your goal. Nike+ GPS has optional settings for voice prompts, noting both time and distance traveled. Prompts can be set to remind you of your progress every minute, or every five, 10,  or 15 minutes. Likewise, distance prompts can be set for every quarter, half, or whole mile, or every two miles. Or the regular voice prompts can be turned off, and you can tap a voice feedback button when you want to check on your status.

Nike+ GPS also has social integration with Facebook and Twitter, allowing you to update your status on completing a run. With Facebook, there is also an optional “Cheers” section. What this does is update your Facebook status when you start a run, so that your friends on Facebook can “Like” the fact that you’re exercising, or leave comments. When someone interacts with this status post, the application on Facebook sends a message back to your iPhone, and a pre-recorded cheering audio will play, letting your friends and family cheer you on by proxy. Of course, if this is irritating to you, you can silence the cheers, or turn the function off altogether.

When you start a run, the Nike+ lets you specify if you will be indoors or outdoors, what music you wish to play, and if you want to take advantage of the Cheer facility on this run. For your music, you can choose no music, whatever is currently playing on your device, a particular playlist, or let the system simply shuffle through whatever music is in your iTunes library.

Tap Continue and you move to the main display for your run. This screen will let your start and stop your workout, skip to the next song or re-play the last. It will even let you change your music altogether if you find it doesn’t suit your mood. But for most people what will be more important are the three sets of numbers displayed on the screen. These are your current rate, the elapsed time you’ve been running, and the total distance traveled. For a basic run or a distance run, the distance gets the prime position. If you choose a timed run, time and distance exchange places. To better illustrate this, let’s take a look at a screen shot from a run in progress.

In this view you can check your progress at a glance, or if you can’t afford to glance, tap the Voice Feedback button and get Nike+ to tell you how well you are doing. Or you can tap the little lock icon in the upper right corner and the screen will transform into this.

This screen is better for night running in those areas where you don’t want to be a lit beacon saying “Rob me now! I have valuable electronics on me!” And it also happens to be gentler on your night vision.

When you finish your run, Some kind of inspirational message from a professional athlete will usually play. These can be either encouraging or annoying, depending on your point of view. Unfortunately, this is one function that Nike doesn’t give you the option of turning off. Nike+ will also automatically sync with Nike’s servers, adding the statistics for your new run to the rest of your account, and updating Twitter if you’ve got the Social Media option turned on. For an update to your Facebook Status, it gives you the opportunity to add a few words of your own.

So you’ve completed your run and synced your results. You’re done right? Well, not quite. Nike also gives you the opportunity to tag your run indicating how you feel, the kind of weather you experienced, the type of terrain you traveled over, and any other notes you’d care to add. This can be vary useful if you’re trying to correlate changes in your times and distances to any of these factors. Of course, you don’t have to tag your runs at all if you don’t want to.

But one of the most interesting features that Nike has included also comes into play at this point. This is the Map Tracking feature. It allows you to see your run laid out on a map, and you can see your rate of progress as a color code on the map, letting you review the run and determine where you slowed down and where you achieved your best speeds. This can be very useful for those who habitually run the same paths over and over again, as it visually displays your information so you can better refine your approach to your route and identify the areas where you need to focus on your progress. One can even zoom in to specific areas to get a finer view. Of course, the closer you zoom the more you’ll see the imperfections in the way the Nike+ tracks your progress.

While Nike+ GPS is a very useful tool for runners, walkers, and anyone else who needs a little help recording their exercise, it isn’t perfect. Your accuracy is often at the mercy of atmospheric conditions that might kill cell signals or GPS transmissions coming down from the satellites. If the application crashes in the middle of a run, for whatever reason, it will either terminate or lose the entire run. When the Cheers function was first added, there were problems where the system would play the cheer audio, end the run, but keep playing music through the earbuds. This was fixed in later updates, but it made cheers impossible to use for a time. Nike has also not been quick in responding to some of the user community’s requests for changes. Many users would like to be able to enter data from a treadmill directly into their Nike+ accounts instead of having to use the application. Especially those who go to gyms that are shielded so that the Nike+ can’t get a signal.

But even considering these drawbacks, we have found it to be a useful tool at a reasonable price. Provided, of course, that you’re already using an iPhone. We haven’t really seen anything that comes close to this level of utility and we’re confident that the Nike+ GPS has earned our stamp of approval.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniele April 3, 2011 at 3:08 PM

Can you use it without the iphone?

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Doc Coleman April 3, 2011 at 10:47 PM

The software is compatible with the iPhone or the iPod Touch, so you will need one of those devices to use the software. The Nike+ iPod software will also work with the iPod Nano, but it doesn’t have the same features and accuracy as the Nike+ GPS. Nike+ iPod also requires a separate sensor that goes in the shoe and costs $30.

So if you want to use Nike+ GPS, but you don’t want to use an iPhone, you’d need to get an iPod Touch.

Hope that answered your question.

Doc

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Arioch Morningstar June 21, 2011 at 11:05 PM

Does the app work with all iPod Touches? I didn’t think the Touch had GPS. Is that a feature that was added to the newest generation?

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Doc Coleman June 22, 2011 at 7:33 AM

Arioch,

I don’t know if it works with all iPod Touches, to be honest. It works with the Location Services built into the device, which may not include GPS. To be honest I’m not up on the iPod Touch. Since the iPod Touch doesn’t have cellular connectivity, it would use positioning based on the Wi-Fi hotspots it can see and what (if any) geopositioning data is available for those networks. I would imagine that accuracy wouldn’t be as good with the iPod Touch, but Nike does claim that it is compatible. I’m afraid that I did not have access to an iPod Touch for testing.

Sorry I can’t give you a more definitive answer.

Doc

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Ellen J July 3, 2011 at 11:28 PM

I got an iPhone a couple days ago, and the Nike+GPS is one of my FAVORITE features that I’ve gotten so far! Love it, love it. The only problem I’m having is playing podcasts during my runs. I can’t figure out how to get it to play anything other than music – do you have any tips?

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Doc Coleman July 4, 2011 at 2:23 PM

Ellen,

I listen to podcasts during my runs and I’ve never had an issue with it. Then again, I create playlists of podcasts and play that when using Nike+. You should have no problem selecting a playlist with podcasts in it from inside the app.

The other way of listening to podcasts is to start the iPod on your device playing, then bring up Nike+ and select Now Playing as the music. Your iPod will continue to play through. In fact, you can switch over to the iPod if it is more convenient to change your audio track while on the run, then switch back to Nike+.

Hope that helped you!

Doc

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Jo August 25, 2011 at 4:41 PM

I’ve just reset my callibration & some runs come of with impossibly low average speeds (in the region of my fasted time for that run) What’s gone wrong???

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Doc Coleman August 26, 2011 at 8:13 AM

Jo,

I suspect what you’re seeing is actually a calibration error. If you reset to the default calibration, it may not accurately track your path and may give you results that have your traveling much more or much less than you have really traveled. If you did a calibration run and then you got those off results, then odds are good you had some kind of GPS error during your calibration run.

How to fix it: Your best bet is to do another calibration run. Find a place where you know the exact distance between two points. For most folks the easiest thing to do is find a track where a single lap around the innermost track is a quarter mile. You can calibrate on a quarter mile, but you’re likely to get better results with a half mile or more, so go to the track, start your calibration run, and do two to four laps around the track. When you’ve finished your run, make sure to set the distance for the run to be the exact distance you’ve traveled.

I hope this helps you!
Doc

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J. Lopez September 15, 2011 at 6:55 PM

I can’t seem to get the iPhone 4 and Nike+ to work on a treadmill. After awhile it simply can’t register the run. I’m using an arm band to hold the phone, but that should work as my arms are moving during the run… Don’t know. Does the GPS have to be green to be accurate? LOST!

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Doc Coleman September 16, 2011 at 9:54 AM

J. Lopez,

I’m afraid I don’t know what to tell you. Nike+ GPS is supposed to work with the iPhone 4 and compatable treadmills. It is even supposed to work when running on a regular treadmill. Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with using them together. Have you tried the Nike+ forums for help?

I can try to dig around and see if I can find something that fits your problem, but I doubt I’m likely to come up with something that you haven’t already found.

Sorry I can’t help more.
Doc

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Mohammed Faizal January 13, 2012 at 8:59 AM

since the day i bought this software ive never been able to connect to gps…wenever i try to connect it shows a error message weak gps singal althought i m standing middle of the road..plz help

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Doc Coleman January 16, 2012 at 9:11 PM

Mohammed,

I’m not sure what I can tell you. I’m just a reviewer, I’m not tech support. But I will give it my best shot. I just don’t know if you’ll like what I have to say.

Your ability to get a good GPS signal depends on several factors. One of those is line of sight from your position to the GPS satellite. If there is cloud cover, or even tree cover, it will degrade your ability to receive the GPS signals clearly. Another potential problem is local interference. If you are using your GPS receiver near a strong source of interference, such as a radio or TV tower, a power station, or even high power lines strung over the road you are running on, it may negatively effect your ability to get a clear GPS signal. The last problem is geographical location. While there are a lot of GPS satellites in orbit, they don’t cover everywhere. Some countries don’t like the idea of American satellites in their sky. Even if the satellites are above the horizon, they may not be close enough to your location to give you a good signal.

In each case, they best you can do is try running in different locations to see if you get a more satisfactory signal in a new locations. The GPS in the iPhone is just a receiver. There isn’t a lot you can do to improve the reception if you happen to live or exercise in an area that is a natural dead spot. Now, if you can compare with someone else’s iPhone and determine that they get a good GPS signal and you don’t, that may be an indicator that your device needs repair.

I’m afraid I can’t really help any more than that. I hope you can find a solution to your issue

Doc

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Sarah W May 7, 2012 at 2:17 AM

I have an iphone 4 and am liking this app more than the Nike Sportsband. I could never get the thing calibrated! The first time I got an actual map on my app was when I turned on the location services in the settings. It doesn’t work unless this is specifically on. Hope that helps!

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Doc Coleman May 7, 2012 at 9:14 PM

Good point, Sarah. I had mentioned in the review that Nike+ GPS takes advantage of Location Services, so it hadn’t occurred to me that someone would try to use it with Location Services off. But you are right, if you are having problems with Nike+ tracking, you should make sure that Locations Services are on before your next run.

Doc

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ozgur January 22, 2012 at 10:17 PM

Hi ,

I just got new nike sensor , and i tried to use it treadmill at the gym , the thing i realize I must hold or wear iphone while running , first i put my phone on dock and it didnt work nike app , then i saw something pop up saying i have to hold or wear iphone , is it really only way to work this thing ?

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Doc Coleman January 23, 2012 at 11:07 AM

Hi,

To me it sounds like there is some confusion between the Nike+ GPS app reviewed here, and the Nike+ iPod app that comes with most iPods and iPhones these days. While these are similar programs, they aren’t the same. Nike + GPS uses GPS signals and the internal motion sensors of the iPhone to track your progress. Nike+ iPod uses an external sensor that goes into your shoe to track your progress.

If you’re using the Nike sensor in your shoe, you need to make sure that you are using the Nike+ iPod app. With that app, you won’t need to carry your iPhone as long as your sensor is in your shoe while you are on the treadmill.

If you’re using the Nike+ GPS software, then you don’t need the sensor, but you will need to have the iPhone on your person in order to track your progress.

I hope that cleared things up. If not, have you tried the forums over at http://nikerunning.nike.com/ ? There you can get help from other users, and occasionally from Nike support.

Doc

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samir April 22, 2012 at 9:59 PM

does the gps work in all countries?

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Doc Coleman April 23, 2012 at 10:46 PM

That is an interesting question. GPS should work anywhere in the world, since it is dependent upon detecting signals from satellites instead of any part of the local infrastructure. Of course, it is always possible that the local authorities might require that service providers disable GPS, but that seems like a rather unusual extreme.

Many people will turn off GPS in order to preserve their battery life. Another possibility if GPS is not working for you, is that you are in an area where there is no current GPS satellite coverage. I don’t know if the orbital paths of the satellites are publicly available, but it is generally accepted that there should be GPS coverage in most parts of the world.

Doc

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Sarah W May 7, 2012 at 2:20 AM

So MY question, is do you have any idea how much data is used? I have an iPhone 4. I’m not sure how the GPS works on my phone actually works. I couldn’t get a map unless the location services were set up to allow the app access, so does it use more one way or the other?

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Doc Coleman May 7, 2012 at 9:45 PM

Now that is an interesting question. I don’t honestly know. GPS works by receiving signals from satellites and triangulating your position based on the relative signal strength and the time it takes for the signal to get to your phone. Locations Services is supposed to work the same way, by receiving signals from cell towers giving their position and a time stamp. Theoretically, this should not require any data transactions, as the phone has no need to send anything out, only to receive generic signals from cell towers and satellites. Then again, it is always possible that in order to improve accuracy, the phone might send a signal to local cell towers to confirm position. But that would require cooperation from the cellular services, and a certain intelligence in the individual cell towers. It would be much simpler to use no data and just use the strength of the signals coming in from the satellites and cell towers.

But honestly, I don’t know.

Doc

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cindy June 6, 2012 at 10:08 AM

HELP!!! I havent been able to use it!!! I install it but when I am about to start it says tracking sensor and it keeps there forever and then it goes back to the menu.

also i have no clue how toi set upo my profile, calinrate, etc

I dont have a sensor so I am guessing then program has one??

PLEASE HELP it mlooks like a cool gadget if you know how to use it
thanks

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Doc Coleman June 6, 2012 at 10:41 PM

Cindy,

Offhand, it sounds like you’ve bought the wrong app. Nike has two different apps. Nike+ iPod requires a sensor which must be bought separately for around $30. Nike+ GPS, which is the app reviewed here. Nike+ GPS doesn’t need a sensor, but instead uses the built in location features of your iPhone or iPod Touch. Both apps have very similar functions, but Nike+ GPS has superior accuracy, and, because it doesn’t require a sensor, is easier to use in most situations.

I hope that helps you. Please verify which app you’ve installed on your device.

Doc

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Tess January 17, 2013 at 8:42 PM

Hi,

I have been using the Nike+GPS for almost two years now. Lately, my three runs, it will not let me end my run. When I press end run on my iPhone, nothing happen. But, resume works just fine.

Anyone else having this problem?

Thanks

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Doc Coleman - Nifty Tech Editor January 18, 2013 at 6:37 AM

Tess,

I know that on the latest version of Nike+GPS, one taps to pause the workout, but to end the workout while it is paused one has to swipe across the screen. Could this be your problem? It does say “Swipe to end workout” on the screen, but the new color scheme doesn’t have a lot of contrast. It could be hard to see if you have your iPhone in a cover. Some covers could also make it difficult to swipe and end the workout.

I wonder if anyone else is having similar difficulties.

Doc

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