One of the greatest changes that the MP3 revolution brought about was how easy it became to run with music. Tape players were huge, CD players skipped, MP3 players, well, they became portable, lightweight, convenient. The idea of carrying a device with you whilst running is now acceptable - mainstream even.
With phones now being lighter and smarter, it's no surprise to see the iPhone strapped to the arm of many runners. And it isn't just providing music, but a whole range of running stats too. A wealth of apps are available to keep track of your progress. The one you'll see most often, however, is probably Nike+ GPS.
Nike+ is a system based around collecting your running stats. It lives on the website nikeplus.com but has various elements feeding in to it. The Nike+ GPS app for iPhone is one such input, but there are other Nike+ devices and various pieces of apparel that are part of that system.
A Nike+ account is free and you can sign up at any time over on the website, but the app will cost you £1.49 to buy. It's a small price worth bearing if you want to be in on the Nike+ system. Currently only iPhone users get an app, so consider yourself lucky as Android users don't get a look in.
The app is pretty simple. It uses the GPS in your iPhone to track your route. It starts and stops when you tell it to, taking in the time, and can then calculate, from the stats in your Nike+ account, how many calories you've used along the way.
The app is cleanly designed with the landing page displaying how many miles or kilometres you've covered. A big total you can't help miss, then broken down into number of runs, average pace, time and calories underneath.
You are presented with three basic options to get you started. You can dive into a new run, or take on some of the interactive features that Nike+ offers. One is to "outrun" your friends within the Nike+ community, the other is to set yourself a challenge.
With Nike+ being a social community, this is core to the way Nike+ works. It is designed to keep you motivated on your runs by setting these challenges, either just for yourself, or for your friends. Nikeplus.com takes this a stage further by offering wider community challenges, such as which county can clock up the most miles, frequency of runs, or specific training programmes.
The app keeps things fairly simple however. Too many options can become confusing, so you won't find it full of different types of training run. The emphasis is very much on you to get out and running, but you can set a time or distance if you have a particular goal, or when it comes to challenging yourself, you can opt to go further or faster than before.
The other aspect of Nike+ GPS, which is by no means mandatory, returns to the original premise of our review: music. Your music will play as you run, of course, but you also get the option for voice feedback. This will alert you when you have covered a particular distance or time, and give you your average pace. Given that the iPhone is fairly cumbersome in running accessory terms, this is pretty much essential. You can't glance at your phone nearly as easily as you can a wrist-mounted Garmin or Polar sports watch (unless you're on a treadmill, of course).
The voice feedback can be tailored to your needs. Updates every kilometre might be nice for starters, but soon becomes a little too frequent. More advanced runners may wish to set it to 15min or 5km intervals instead, otherwise it can feel like a constant stream of updates. But we like the fact you can change it, or turn it off completely.
You can get voice feedback at any time by hitting the button on the screen when running. There is also the option to play a "PowerSong", which you can allocate from your song list, on the tap of another button. We didn't use this feature, however, because we found it always paused and then restarted the run before playing the song.
You get access to a range of settings within the app and your recent run history. This history is in sync with your Nike+ account, so if you have another device that collects data, you'll find your history is correct.
You can view maps of your runs, share on Facebook and Twitter, and add details of how you felt, the weather, terrain and so on, so if you have a bad run, up hills, in the wind, you'll be able to remember why you dropped off the pace.
The great thing about the Nike+ app is that you can get to all your data online or on your iPhone and you don't need anything special to get it going. It isn't the only running tracking app out there, but for many, the Nike+ world will appeal. We'd like an option to track other sports - cycling specifically - but as a running app, we like its back to basics approach.