Why did Nike ruin its beautiful running app?

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Nike has turned its running app into a dodgy mashup of Instagram and Snapchat
Nike has turned its running app into a dodgy mashup of Instagram and Snapchat
Photo: Graham Bower / Cult of Mac

All hell broke loose last week when Nike relaunched its much loved Nike+ Running app with a new offering called “Nike+ Run Club.” Plagued with bugs, sluggish performance and missing features, this update has infuriated some of Nike’s most loyal users, including me. Nike+ Running used to have an impressive 4.5 star rating on the App Store. Since the update, this has plummeted to just 1.5 stars. And Nike’s Facebook and Twitter accounts are now flooded with gripes.

So what happened? How could a single update turn one of the best iPhone running apps into one of the worst?

Nike’s mid-life crisis

A complete redesign for marketing droids by marketing droids

I really wanted to like this update. I’m a huge Nike fan. I always wear Vomeros when I’m running, and I’ve been logging my workouts with Nike+ for almost 10 years. But the truth is, aside from the long overdue introduction of support for watchOS 2, I really can’t think of anything positive to say about Nike+ Run Club.

It seems as though Nike has entered a midlife crisis, and we are all made to suffer as a result.

You know that older dude at work who always dressed in a conservative suit and tie, and then suddenly started wearing flashy white sneakers, rolled up jeans and a Ramones t-shirt? Nike is like that mid-life crisis – an embarrassing attempt to emulate trendy upstart brands like Snapchat and Instagram.

Remember iTunes Ping? Nike doesn’t, apparently

Apple went through a similar mid-life crisis back in 2010 when it attempted to launch its own social network. Known as “iTunes Ping” it was a second-rate Facebook knockoff bolted onto the already bloated iTunes desktop app. Unsurprisingly, no one used it and Apple was finally forced to concede defeat by shuttering the service two years later.

Nike’s new Run Club app attempts to do something similar, replacing their hugely popular Nike+ Running app with what appears to be a clumsy mashup of Instagram and Snapchat. Rather than enabling you to share your run history with other users, like most running apps do, Nike has decided to allow you to share photos of your runs instead.

It’s supposed to be a running app, not a photo-sharing community

Bizarrely, this new photo sharing feature has actually replaced the ability to share run data. Where once you could share a link to your run data on Twitter and Facebook, including your route map, split times, pace and duration, all hosted on the Nike+ website, now all you can do is share images.

Nike seems to think that users will want to take a photo of every run. But for serious runners who run the same route every day, there just isn’t anything to photograph.

I would like to be able to share my runs with followers via a feed – a feature offered by almost every other serious running app. And yet, now Nike has finally launched its own feed, it turns out it is just for sharing images, not actual running data. And to add insult to injury, if you want to share images on Twitter or Facebook, you’re forced to share them on Nike’s feed first.

Nike claims this new app is “a complete redesign for runners, by runners,” but this seems a bit of a stretch. Runners are interested in, well, running, not sharing photos and creating cute Snapchat style montages. It is probably more accurate and honest to say that it is a complete redesign for marketing droids by marketing droids.

Even the core running features are now buggy

If Nike had simply bolted on its new photo sharing feature to its previous excellent running app, there may not have been such a backlash. After all, if you don’t like the photo sharing, you could just ignore that feature and get on with running as usual.

But sadly it’s not that simple. Nike+ Run Club is not just an update, it seems more like a complete rewrite. Nothing about the new app is familiar. And features that used to be rock solid and reliable have now become slow, buggy and prone to crashing.

In my testing, runs did not always sync. Mileage for a run is inconsistent from one screen to the next. Finishing a workout on Apple Watch did not always end the active workout session. And the new user interface is poorly thought out. Data is now presented in a square shape, so it is more easy to post to the feed, Instagram-style. But since split times tend to be a long list, they don’t fit in the square format, which means you can only see the first few miles of your run. (Sure, tapping a second time expands the list, but why is it necessary to do this?) It is as if Nike has some superstitious belief that if it adopted the same square format that Instagram (used to) use, then perhaps some of Instagram’s magic will rub off.

Nike+ Run Club squeezes everything into square frames
Nike+ Run Club squeezes everything into square frames
Photo: Graham Bower / Cult of Mac
Nike+ Running icons, old and new
Nike+ Running icons, old and new
Photo: Graham Bower / Cult of Mac

It’s like botched plastic surgery

Nike+ is not just another fitness app. It has an illustrious pedigree dating way back to the glory days of the Steve Jobs era of Apple. The iconic orange swoosh app icon first made its appearance on the iPod in 2006, and was presumably approved by Jobs himself. This legacy is why I have carried on using the app all these years, logging 15,000 miles in the process. It gives me a strand of continuity leading all the way back to when I first started running.

That classic Nike+ icon has now been scrapped in favor of a cluttered new icon that is every bit as confusing as the new app. It’s like seeing a close family member get a bad facelift.

Change it back please, Nike!

When The Gap changed its classic serifed logo to a fugly new version in 2010, customer feedback was so negative the company reverted back to the old logo six days later. Similarly, when British Airways, Britain’s “flag-carrying” airline decided to remove the Union Jack flag from its planes, it was such an unpopular move that BA caved in and restored the flag to its rightful place. And who can forget “New Coke“.

So there’s precedent for big brands recognizing they have made a mistake and rolling it back.

I’m really hoping that Nike is listening to its customers and finds a way to bring the old app back.

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  • Agree! Glad to hear Im not the only one, thought maybe I wasnt in on the make-your-app-look-like-shyte trend

  • emnyc

    Bravo for posting this. Agree 100%. Whoever allowed this disaster of an app to be released at Nike ought to be fired. It’s a mess. Just as you stated, it doesn’t always save runs, the synch may or may not work, you can no longer tweet out your running routes and the list goes on. Ugh.

  • Joe

    I have always used the Nike+Running app for tracking my bicycle mileage. I was literally 100 miles from hitting 5,000. I had every intention of hitting it Labor Day. But the app is no longer tracking the miles properly. The first day of the new app, I hear the lady say “Pausing workout,” “Resuming workout,” “Pausing workout,” over and over – in the first mile! So I stop and investigate. Down in the set-up menus is a setting Auto-Pause Run. I turn it off. Does that fix the problem? Not really. Even now, I do a 15 mile ride and the app logs maybe 6 miles. The app used to be so accurate to my speedometer I quit using the speedometer at all. Yes, I can approximate my distance and manually adjust, but that ain’t how it’s supposed to work, is it? Why did they mess with the mileage tracking? Why did they “fix” the app right at the end of summer? Real mysterious choices there.
    BTW – The app has given me incentive to buy Nike shoes, out of appreciation, about every 1,000 miles. This app has been a good selling tool for Nike. Nike – Please fix the bugs quickly. Or I will soon migrate to a new app..

  • Linda Paulette Howard

    Last night the app recorded a 4 minute mile, then a 14 minute mile, then 2 miles at 11 minutes. Totally inconsistent….I run the same loops on a regular basis and the mile markers are different depending on the day. Very frustrating. I’m thinking of moving to the Brooks app.