RunKeeper’s smartphone app gets smarter with sensors

Smartphones are packing more sensors these days, and application developers continue to find new ways to gain additional value from them. Popular exercise application RunKeeper, for example, updated its software on Monday with two new ways to take advantage of the GPS and Bluetooth radios in either a Google(s goog) Android handset or Apple (s aapl) iPhone.

The free RunKeeper application already leverages these radios; using a GPS sensor, the software tracks the speed, distance and route elevation while running, walking or cycling, for example. During the exercise, the application can provide audio feedback on pace and distance. When the activity is completed, a route map is saved in a Google Maps format, complete with details on the effort. But the new version takes RunKeeper a step further.

An auto-pause function is now built in to RunKeeper, which temporarily pauses the GPS tracking when arriving at a red light or stopping to take a picture of the scenery. I know from experience that the automatic pause feature will prove handy. I run daily using the app, and it can be a chore to unlock the phone and manually pause it when needed. It’s actually difficult to do so in the winter when running with gloves; I’ve actually used my nose to pause the application during cold weather months, which looks ridiculous to cars passing by.

The other new function takes advantage of wireless heart rate monitors. RunKeeper already supported these monitors by tracking heart rate data during exercise and providing an average heart rate upon activity completion. Now the data becomes more useful in the new software update. RunKeeper shows visual heart rate data in real time and supports targeted heart zone training. Users can set up heart rate target zones, which generally measure exercise effort, and RunKeeper will provide audio cues when the heart rate is above or below the targeted zone.

RunKeeper’s software updates also include a handy workout countdown timer, allowing you to stash your phone in a pouch or pocket before taking off, and some GPS updates to improve exercise tracking. These are welcome, of course, but the more important features are those that continue to find new ways to gain value from the sensors in our smartphones. Think about it: If the auto-pause feature could be combined with accelerometer data, your smartphone could determine that you’ve been hit by a car while running or cycling. Imagine if it could call for help in that scenario, thanks to the sensor data.