Friday, January 7, 2011

Count Me In!, a new iPhone app

Helium Apps LLC released their latest iPhone app to the App Store this week. This is a simple-to-use and accurate *real* Calorie counter.  Most Calorie counters deal with diet and food, spreadsheet-like; this app measures Calories you burn during your outdoor exercising, or workout.  Perhaps its more accurate to call it a Calorie meter as it measures the Calories you burn. And fun to use.

Using the iPhone's built-in GPS receiver, Count Me In! tracks your position, calculates your current speed and then determines how many Calories you burn walking, jogging, or biking, It even does a pretty good job of stairs. Setup is easy, simply enter your weight.  Using your weight is important to get an accurate reading of the Calories burned.

The app maintains a  daily accumulator so you can track how many Calories you burn over the full day.

Its design goal has been "simple to use" and is intended for someone who wants an accurate Calorie count without having to "fuss with it". It has achieved this using a very simple user interface: mostly a map of your route, a single Start/Stop button, and a large visual of Calories burned. A stop watch type of app. It works particularly well for iPhone 4's (and newer) as it works great "in the background" so you can focus on things.

While simplicity has been its mantra, some bells and whistles have been added to enhance the "user experience", if you so choose.  One is a "details view" which will provide you more information about your exercise and lets you use a toggle button to see your time, distance, speed, elevation as well as Calories burned.  This details view also shows the breakdown of the Calories into their horizontal, vertical, and "resting" components.  This will, for example, tell you how many Calories you burned walking up "that hill", or those stairs.

Another feature, and one of my favorites is the compass view.  When turned on the compass view will rotate the map (and your route) in the same direction that you are heading.  So you can point the iPhone in the direction you're heading and see (on the map) where you're going.

Those are the main features but there are others. For instance, its accuracy comes from using the American College of Sports and Medicine (ACSM) metabolic eqations.  These are equations fitness trainer use to determine a workout regime for someone who want to, say, loss X number of Calories.
"Count Me In!" can be used to measure those Calories burned.

Want to check it out in the App Store? Click here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

iTrakMe 2.0

Yesterday iTunes released iTrakMe 2.0.  This is great news for Helium Apps considering iTunes started their week long holiday today. And YOU don't have to wait an additional week to try it out.  Originally planned to be a 1.1 version (to fix some problems with background operation) enough new features have been added to qualify it for a major version. 

And its still free with a $2.99 upgrade path for the full featured version.

iTrakMe 2.0 now works correctly with iOS 4 and its very cool background tasking. Woo hoo! In other words you can start iTrakMe, start using some other feature on your phone, and it continues to properly receive GPS data in the background. Bring iTrakMe to the front shows you up to-the-second readings. Fixing that problem was the original motivation for 1.1.

Several new features were added qualifying it as a "major release". Probably the most significant change and improvement has been to use the ACSM's Caloric calculating equations for walking, running, and steps. The American College of Sports Medicine is a professional society focused on sports medicine and exercise science. iTrakMe calculates the Calories you burn using these equations.  Interestingly, iTrakMe uses these equations in a novel way by calculating (and displaying) the values in real-time while conventional use is focused on average use (for example, "6.2 feet per second for 15 minutes").

In further support of the ACSM, iTrakMe now includes an "ACSM Metabolic Calculator" .  You can calculate the number of Calories burned when you enter speed, minutes, grade, and weight. There are acutally 3 calculators one each for walking, running, and stairs.

Another major feature has been the addition of a "compass view". With this view is turned on iTrakMe rotates its map to align with your direction, that is, with the direction you are heading.  This is a fun feature but some find it a more intuitive way to use the app. 

There have been numerous minor improvements such as a stream-lined menu system, an improved Start/Stop system, as well as an better way to specify the activity (walk, run, mtn bike, road bike, or car).  Check it out!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The iTakeMe Video

For those tiring of text here is a fun video about iTrakMe.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Groups and Locating Friends

One of iTrakMe's core features is to see where your friends are currently located.  So, for example, if you're going to meet some friends somewhere but are arriving separately you can use Groups to see each other as you try to meet up.  Another use is to stay in contact as you split up, say, to explore different parts of town.  Each member of the group is identified by a purple pin on the primary map view.  Clicking the pin displays that person's name (or whatever tagline they want to use for themselves.)

So a group is simply defined by the unique group code that one of you generates using the "Start New Group" button in the Sharing section of the app.  You share this code with the members of the group who then enter it into the Group Id text box. 

There's a few settings in the Sharing view to control your group.  Beside the "Start New Group" button there an option bar to set the "time until expiration" which is the time when the group code becomes invalid (and useless).  By default it's set to 1 hour but you have the option of setting it to 10 minutes or to 24 hours.  In addition you can quickly email your friends the group code using the "Share Group" button.  The "Cancel Group" button will cancel the code and this can only be done by the one who originally create the group code.

To use the code go back to the main view, find the Group menu using the arrow navigation buttons and ping the group.  The ping will generate a purple pin at your current location. 

When you tap the "Show Group" button iTrakMe will zoom out to encompass of members of the group who have pinged.  It's as simple as that.  It should be noted that each member of your group needs to ping the group before anyone can see them. And of course only the members can see each other; other iTrakMe users do not see your group, it's private.

Pinging others in your group is a manual operation. That is, if you don't ping the group the others will never see your location.  But what if you don't want to have to ping them every 10 minutes?  Then use the "Activate Auto" button on the group menu.  Toggling this button will cause iTrakMe to send a ping out every few minutes as you move about.  Tap the button again and the auto-pinging is turned off.

Groups are one of the more exciting features of iTrakMe and I'd love to hear from you if you have come up with any unique uses for Groups.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Viewing Saved Trails

Each saved trail records all of its GPS data points and other information into a database on your iPhone.  To access all of your saved trails tap the "action" button in the upper right-hand corner of the app. Then either select the "Most Recent" or the "All Trails" item.  The "All Trails" will display all of your saved trails- sorted from latest to the oldest- along with summary information about each.

Tapping a trail from this list will display the map along with the trail route itself marked by the green start pin and red stop pin.  Btw, tapping one of these pins will show you the start or stop time of the trail. Since this is the standard iPhone map you can pan and zoom to get a better view of the trail.

The first thing to note from this view is the row of buttons at the bottom of the view.  The left and right arrows allow you to navigate to the previous or next (in time) trail and is a quick way to see each trail in detail.

The Info button will display all of the data that was taken for the trail including time, duration, distance, speed, elevation change, Calories burned, type of activity, number of pictures taken, and number of GPS points saved. Btw, the type of units that are used is set by the "Preferred Units" selector in the Settings view which you can change.

To the right of the Info button, the one with the zig-zag pattern, is the "elevation profile" toggle button. Tapping this button will show the elevation profile for the trail.  Of course, elevation data has to be on for this to show anything meaningful.  The small "+" button will change the profile so that the lowest elevation is stretched to the bottom and provides a way to see more of the elevation change.  Also, tapping a location on the profile will display the elevation for that point.

The envelope button will display a view where you can email your trails in a few different ways.  The first type of email will send a url link to a friend.  When this link is clicked it will display the current trail on a google maps as well as most of the information associated with the trail.  Note that this link is good for 1 week.

The other 2 email options allow you to email the current or all of the trails and while you can email anyone it was intended to allow you to backup you trails to your email.  Basically, all trails are saved in KML format which is a popular format for saving trails and other GPS data.

The last button is the trash or delete button. After prompting you for confirmation this button will delete the current trail from your iPhone.

The Edit button (upper right hand corner) allows you to edit the title and activity for the trail.  By tapping the title text box inside the Edit view you can change it to something more meaningful then its default value, its start time. You can also change the activity here by switching the Edit switch on and then selecting another activity.  This is most useful when you forgot to change the activity when you started.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fitness Monitoring

One of the primary uses of iTrakMe is to monitor your workout, whether that is walking, running, or biking. As you exercise you can display one of several large-font "meters" showing either duration, distance, speed, elevation, or Calories burned. This is useful when you want a quick glance at, say, your distance but don't want to be distracted from your walk.

To set a meter for monitoring use one of the 2 navigation arrows at the bottom of the app to scroll through the list of menus.  The meter menu has an additional left arrow and is used to select the meter value type. Scroll through that arrow until you find one you're interested in watching and then start you workout.  Don't forget the Start button when beginning!  The selected value will be updated every few moments to give you a real-time view of the value.  And you can always scroll through to see what the other values are.

Note:  You need the upgrade to show all meters.  In addition to the upgrade you need to "turn on" elevation data to, well, get elevation data.

Hint 1: All of these meter values can be viewed at the same time using the Info button.  The disadvantages to this is that the font size is much smaller and the info view takes up a good part of the map area.

Hint 2:  To set the activity (walk, bike, etc) tap one of the 2 main navigation arrows until you find the menu with the "Home" button.  Next to this button is the activity-selector button which you can tap until the activity you're interested in shows up.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Locations in Time

iTrakMe's core functionality is in its trail or GPS recording ability.  Pressing the Start buttons starts recording and new locations are saved as you walk, bike, or drive your car. When you stop recording iTrakMe will prompt you to save or discard the trail. 

iTrakMe also makes it easy to resume a trail, say, when you take a phone call and quit the app.  Restart the app and click the Start button and iTrakMe will ask if you want to resume the most recent trail.  Resuming will continue the previous recording that was interrupted.

With the full feature version you can retrieved elevation levels for each saved location.  This is interesting in its own as it gives you a 3-D recording of your trail but is most important when calculating Calories expended. Yes, the Elevation data is used to calculate "stair" Calories (if walking) or uphill Calories (if bike riding).  To turn on elevation press the "action" button (upper right hand corner) and then the Settings option.  Scroll down until you see the Elevation Data switch and turn it on.

While you're in the Settings view you may (or may not) want to turn off the GPS sound effect.  I like it but your walking buddy may start to find it annoying. Alternatively, you can turn down or turn off the sound using the physical button on the side of the iPhone.

While recording, GPS points are saved as long as the new point arrives at a minimum distance from the last saved point.  The  minimum distance between points is determined by the activity, so for example, setting the activity to walk will cause iTrakMe to save a GPS point every 10 meters.

walk/run10 meters (30 feet)
mountain bike30 meters (90 feet)
road bike50 meters (150 feet)
car100 meters (300 feet)

Helpful Hint:  iTrakMe uses the iPhone's built-in GPS receiver to record location and while generallly very good and very accurate its initial operation after starting the app may be somewhat inaccurate. You can tell if this is the case because either the blue dot on the map is not where you actually are or that the accuracy bubble about the blue dot is large (over 100 meters).  When this happens you may need to wait for a few seconds for the iPhone to calculate a more accurate value. And if you just started recording simply discard that trail and start recording again.

Each saved location also includes a timestamp so that other derivative information like speed and Calories can be calculated.  All of this data is "real-time" and can be view as you move by toggling the Info button in the upper left hand corner of the main view.  There are a couple of things to note about the info view.  First a metric/feet "measuring stick" is drawn in the upper right hand part of the map to help you determine distances at the current zoom level.  Secondly - and only if you are recording - an info view is displayed showing you starting time, duration, distance, speed, elevation, and Calories burned.  You can customize this info view to some extent by showing only the values that interest you.  Again, the Settings view will provide a list of switches that you can modify to do this.

Finally, all of those saved trails can be accessed by clicking the "action" button (upper right hand corner) then clicking the "All Trails" item.  This will show a list of all trail recordings from most recent to the oldest.  Selecting the one you want to view will display the trail and all of its saved data.  There is quite a bit to this view so I will cover it in detail in a later post.