Data, smartwatches and the future of fitness, with RunKeeper’s Jason Jacobs

Silicon Valley blogger Robert Scoble caused something of a stir at this year’s The Next Web Conference Europe, when he said that he wasn’t going to live another day without a wearable computer on his face. He even said it was the biggest game-changer since the Apple II.
This bizarre comment related specifically to the Google Glass unit he sported for the duration of the conference. Wherever he went, Scoble was mobbed by geeky groupies (geekies?) vying for a try of Google’s prototype head-mounted display. It was like Beatlemania all over again.
But the hype and excitement around Google Glass is telling. While there are issues relating to privacy that have some people up in arms, the opportunities presented by such advanced ubiquitous computing technology can’t be ignored.
Recently, RunKeeper became only the second company to launch an app that integrates with Pebble, the smartwatch that broke all kinds of records when the project was launched on Kickstarter.
Just to recap, Pebble is a slick e-paper smartwatch that connects to iPhone or Android. The first watches started shipping to backers in January this year, and anyone can now pre-order a device through its website, at a cost of $150.00.
We caught up with RunKeeper founder and CEO Jason Jacobs to get his take on hardware, wearable computers, and what implication these kinds of integrations will have on health and fitness apps such as RunKeeper.

Jog on, RunKeeper

RunKeeper has been going since the dawn of the modern smartphone era. Its iPhone app rolled out in August 2008, just a few weeks after the Apple App Store went live, but Jacobs says they were actually building RunKeeper before Apple announced that the iPhone 3G would have GPS.
“The idea came when I was training for my first marathon in 2007,” he says. “I was using Nike+ and thought that building a simple, intuitive, social fitness platform was a huge idea. So big, in fact, that someone needed to focus on it as their only thing in an open way across a broad range of fitness/wellness devices and categories. Thus, RunKeeper was born.”
In many ways, RunKeeper was in the right place at the right time, and it was one of the first GPS-enabled fitness apps to gain real traction. The Android incarnation hit the Android Market (now Google Play) in April 2010, and today RunKeeper claims more than 19 million users, which is a phenomenal success in anyone’s estimation.
With the Pebble partnership now cemented, we thought we’d get Jacobs’ take on what this means for RunKeeper. Indeed, Jabobs says the Pebble partnership is one of many more hardware integrations in the coming months, and this is in addition to the existing tie-ups with a slew of third-party devices, such as Wahoo, Polar, Jawbone, Fitbit, Withings, Striiv, and iHealth.
But what is the main motivation for opening its API and integrating with third-party devices such as Fitbit or Wahoo – does it enable monetization conduits for the company, or is it purely about bringing added value to the user?

By Paul Sawers
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