Not all cyclists care about their riding statistics. They don’t monitor their distance, speed, and RPM. They’re not concerned about a ride’s elevation gain or whether they’re on track to beat their average time for that route.
I’m not one of those lucky riders.
I’ve written about my obsession with numbers in my old blog. It’s what prods me into acquiring multiple gadgets and iPhone applications that capture my cycling data.
Now, after nearly three years of comparing dedicated cycling computers with the multi-purpose iPhone, I’ve come to a definitive conclusion: iPhone apps are dramatically inferior even compared with cheap hardware. So much so, even free cycling apps aren’t worth the trouble.
Yes, I’ve written nice things about, say, the Cyclemeter app. And I used it regularly for months. But now I’ve quit. Just as earlier I stopped using MotionX-GPS on my iPhone. When compared to a simple piece of hardware attached to my road or mountain bikes, these apps are a big disappointment.
I wish I could blame the software developers. But I can’t. They try hard and pack their apps with lots of nifty features. But they are undermined by the iPhone hardware and the real world.
Take my Garmin 205, a low-end GPS unit. It has six real buttons I can push that instantly respond to the command, showing me an array of data choices. Any app I use on the iPhone requires interaction with the device’s haptic screen technology. The problem is while riding I often wear full-fingered gloves because in the Pacific Northwest it’s darn cold for many of my rides. If I want to check some data in mid-ride, I need to remove my gloves to fiddle with the iPhone.
Worse, because my hands are warm inside my gloves, my fingers are damp from perspiration. Have you ever tried to work an iPhone with sweaty hands? It’s a hit-and-miss operation at best.
Then there’s the weather. Not surprisingly, here in the Pacific Northwest we get rain. A lot of rain. Apple wisely recommends that its smartphones not get wet. As such, I tuck mine into a pocket to stay dry. So, again, if I want to access information from my cycling app during a ride, I have to alter my pace to pull it from a pocket, remove my gloves, and struggle with the unit. My Garmin isn’t so dainty and has withstood rain, sleet, hail, and even snow.
Despite some of the advantages iPhone apps offer, they inevitably become one of those tools that never get used. And my iPhone increasingly becomes merely a phone that can play music. Oh, it does these tasks very nicely.
© Mark Everett Hall 2011