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November 1, 2012

Project Watch: Runtastic gets ‘apptastic’

Cloud-hosted mobile sports data application provider, Runtastic, has turned to Compuware to improve its application monitoring and management. Jason Stamper reports

By Jason Stamper

Runtastic

Runtastic is a cloud-hosted mobile application for a range of devices that tracks sports data, such as elapsed time, speed, calorie consumption and heart rate. There’s a social networking angle, too, as users are encouraged to upload the details of their sporting prowess to the Runtastic community site for all to see.

Christian Kaar, CTO and co-founder, started Runtastic in 2009 with three classmates after completing a Master’s degree in mobile computing at the University of Applied Sciences in Hagenberg, Austria.

Speaking to CBR, he said: "When I studied mobile computing in 2003 there was no iPhone, no Android. We basically were building things for a Nokia phone running Java ME. Now it’s clear where things are going, but back then it was quite hard."

Kaar had been using GPS technology initially to track the positions of yachts in a regatta, the idea being to make the race more interesting for spectators back on shore, as they would be able to follow events on a mobile application.

However, with applications for mobile a very nascent market – there was no Apple App Store or Google Play store for Android – Kaar had limited traction: "The first iPhone didn’t have GPS, but when the next one came out in 2008 it did, and that changed everything."

With the co-founders being keen runners and cyclists they realised their system could have potential as a fitness aid, and the Runtastic idea started to take shape.

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Today the firm is profitable, and employs 45 staff, of which 16 are developers. It has 37 mobile applications, some developed specifically for a particular sport such as running or mountain-biking, that run on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Samsung Bada and Windows Mobile.

The firm also produces a range of hardware such as a GPS watch, heart monitors and the like.

Millions of customers
To date Runtastic has had 13 million application downloads – there’s a free version as well as a licensed version for users wanting more bells and whistles – but Kaar explained that the product needed to become more sophisticated in its mobile application monitoring and management.

Increasing usage – around three million active users per month – had the potential to put strain on the company’s cloud-based mobile apps, but having met Compuware at a trade show, Runtastic became one of the first users of the firm’s mobile user experience management technology.

"One of the challenges we have is dealing with the diversity of hardware devices, especially all the different Android devices," Kaar said. "That created challenges for our support team because a user would report a problem but we didn’t know what the user had done. We needed an end-to-end view from the mobile application back to the back-end services.

"With the mobile user experience management we are able to get that end-to-end view," Kaar said. "We can analyse problems much faster and more effectively than before, and we have faster problem resolution. For example, we found a Facebook mis-configuration that was only affecting Android users, and we were able to fix it quite quickly. We’re also able to use experience among live customers to feed that information into dev and test."

Kaar said the software has good reporting functionality, enabling users to monitor application performance at a reasonably high level before drilling down into the detail if specific issues are identified. There are the usual range of graph and chart options, and data can be exported to Excel or another tool if users have a preferred data-analysis offering.

Is there anything that Kaar would like to see added to the Compuware technology? "We’d like to have crash reports, to know in even finer detail what caused an application to crash," he said. "That information is also important for dev and test." A Compuware spokesperson said crash reports will be added to the mobile application management technology "soon", and that it is working with mobile device makers to make the functionality possible.

Summing up, Kaar said: "It’s definitely been worth the investment; user satisfaction and support is key for us."

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