This year promises to be an exciting one for running tech: more wireless audio, the Apple Watch and Android Wear watches, longtime GPS watch brands upping their game, new and better physiology monitoring and apps are all in store. Even treadmills get interesting—with workouts following virtual, highly visual courses.
Truly Wireless Music
With phones increasingly ditching the headphone jack, wireless and even totally wire-free audio will become the norm with improvements in battery life, sound quality, and in-ear heart rate sensing all becoming more common and less expensive. On the GPS watch front, Apple will emerge as an ever more significant player in audio through deep integration of its earphones to its OS. Jabra’s Elite Sport also senses heart rate and even repetitions, while Bragi and others all contend for our ears.
The Battle of the GPS Watch Platforms
Android Wear-based GPS watches from Polar, New Balance and others along with Apple Watch phone-free GPS apps such as Nike+ Run Club and Runkeeper will compete fiercely with the proprietary Garmin, Suunto and TomTom platforms for our run data. Will the downsides of Android Wear and Apple Watch—battery life, programming restrictions—hamper their popularity, or will the flexibility of adding apps for myriad day-to- day needs win out? The longtime players will not be standing still, with new form factors and options to encourage every-day, all-day use, along with training-specific apps. New on-watch capabilities will emerge, such as US TOPO and cycling maps preloaded and viewable on the new Garmin 5X with turn-by-turn alerts along routes, points of interest and map data overlays.
Run Form Sensing Gets Practical
Run form sensing and apps will get ever more sophisticated with an increasing focus not just on the data but what to do with it during and after the run. Clip-ons from companies such as Lumo and SHFT now coach on the run and provide pre-run tips, in-run feedback and post-run exercises. Others such as RunScribe capture and analyze foot, shoe and stride data, while Stryd gets at run power. The challenge for these will be in personalizing the coaching. The use of phone cameras emerged late in 2016 as a tool to analyze body mechanics and then recommend exercises with the Saucony Stride Lab app, which allows any runner to experience laboratory-style form assessment. As more of these types of apps emerge, getting accurate shoe recommendations from an app will become a reality.
Beyond Heart Rate Sensing
Wrist-based HR will become increasingly ubiquitous and reliable. Expect to see new styles to monitor heart rate variability, sleep and activity—even rings such as the new Motiv Ring. Resting heart rate, sleep patterns and other metrics of well-being and recovery are poised to become part of our training and daily routines. Expect simpler, more useful app displays of these data, along with breathing and meditation exercises to help runners balance training, stay healthy and manage stress. Fitbit, Apple, Whoop, The Wellbe, ZoomHRV and others have recently introduced such products and features. The challenge in 2017 will not be all that data—but how to easily understand and practically apply what it tells us day in, day out.
The Dreadmill Gets Less Boring
Platforms such as Zwift have recently become popular in the cycling world for making indoor trainer workouts less boring by following on-screen virtual courses while competing and riding with others worldwide, live. Early running betas and introductions from Zwift and Run Social have emerged. Because almost everybody finds the treadmill boring, we expect these virtual experiences to grow in capabilities and popularity