R&D With MapMyFitness – Bring on the Quantified Self!

While attending South By Southwest in Texas recently, I took the opportunity to spend some time at MapMyFitness. MapMyFitness runs a number of different services which are all focused on allowing athletes and recreational fitness buffs to track the statistics around their fitness activities. I’ve used MapMyRun for a number of years now – it tracks my running, swimming and bike riding and gives me a great way to analyze what I’ve done cumulatively. MapMyFitness does a great job of replacing the paper diaries I’ve used for years to track my activities. While this is a really useful service for anyone who likes to keep a record of these things, the industry is moving ahead rapidly as people demand much more in the way of proactive, forward-looking and smart solutions.

What many people generally want is a service that not only tracks what they’ve done in the past, but offers smart suggestions that take their athletic goals, their baseline current physical state, and offer some “virtual trainer” functionality that helps them eek maximum performance out of their training.

It has been interesting to see this “quantified self” area grow in prominence over the past few years – converged hardware/software solutions like Nike’s Fuelband, Jawbone UP and others have started to give consumers an opportunity to not only track the activity they do, but also keep an eye on other bio-feedback aspects – sleep, diet, stress levels etc. This quantified self area is of such import to many of these companies that Nike felt compelled to launch an Accelerator program, the Nike+ Accelerator Program developed with collaboration from TechStars. the Portland-based program aims to help companies to create products using both the Nike+ hardware, and the API and SDK that leverages them. The idea being that these companies will come up with some amazing solutions to increase the value of the Nike+ platform.

Which takes us back to MapMyFitness, with Nike seemingly encroaching on their territory, how does a much smaller company innovate to keep offering smart solutions? I was pretty excited to see some experimental stuff that MapMyFitness’s R&D engineer, Kyler Eastman has been playing with in the lab. In particular he has been looking for ways to take the existing mobile application, and offer far more value for users. In the example below, Eastman has leveraged the built-in accelerometers within the iPhone to develop a prototype gait analysis offering. The scenario is pretty appealing – users who currently track their runs with MapMyFitness coupld be offered up a specific analysis of how they run, how their gait changes depending on different terrain, run duration and biological factors (heart rate etc). Users could then be offered tailored training drills to improve the way they run.

This is very much a prototype solution, but it was encouraging to see the company thinking well beyond simply providing a digital workout diary. The key to improved performance is having deeper insights into how ones body works – the more the developing of those insights can be automated, the more likely people are to use them.