I was just cleaning my files and stumbled across my old source code repository and looked at the first code commit of ConnectStats in September 2012…
ConnectStats and other apps have come a long way since then. The original reason I wrote ConnectStats are no longer valid, but today I still use it and feel the need to maintain it. I’ll go through how I use it, where I think it still has an edge vs other apps and where the other apps provide features I need but will never implement in ConnectStats.
I personally use extensively the Strava App, the Garmin Connect App and ConnectStats. It is very possible there are other apps out there that do a terrific job that I don’t know, but this article is just about what I use myself.
The original desire
When I started the app in 2012, the landscape was very different. I had just bought my first Garmin. Strava had been around for sometime, but I was completely unaware of it at the time. I was using an iPhone 4s on iOS 5. The iPhone 5 and iOS 6 were about to be released (and I had ordered it)
Garmin Website at the time was pretty basic and low on functionality and above all was not designed for nor working well on the phone browser. Connectivity was not what is it now and constantly connecting to the web added to the poor experience. Even on the phone, I wanted some basic analysis that weren’t available, so I decided to build it to get:
- Color Gradient representation on the map of your speed or HR, so I could see where I was faster/slower or pushing more. Didn’t exist.
- Scatter plots to I could visually see relationship between my data both on an activity or historically. You would have had to download data into excel to achieve that.
- Locally stored data so the experience was quicker (no constant slow web interaction) and available when I was online.
- Full access to all the data and history aggregation. The stats pages on the garmin web site at the time were quite basic and quite a bit of data from the watch couldn’t be plotted.
It is interesting that today the first two feature are still not available on the other two apps I use. I’ll concede that in practice the scatter plots are not so interesting, I use them less now, and prefer the other stats developed since which we’ll touch upon later.
But the Color Gradient is still useful and I still refer to it sometimes to review a run, and see where my ascent speed, or my HR was low and where I should push more next time.
The locally stored data is clearly something unique to ConnectStats as all the services I know today are on the cloud. I probably missed something, but I have to say I still like the responsiveness and availably of having all your data on the device, ability to browse and review when without an internet connection or a cloud outage like the one Garmin is experiencing at this very moment (July 2020).
To this day though, I really enjoy browsing and reviewing details of my statistics over weeks, months, comparing different aspects of the data quickly and over long period of times. Strava and Garmin have good and I would argue definitely better looking UI to review your current activities, current week, maybe last week or months. But if you want to review how you did the last few months versus the same months last year or your best year in the past, I find it still hard to do with Strava or Garmin, while fairly straight forward with ConnectStats.
Catch up race
While I didn’t know about Strava in the early days, I can say that Garmin has come a long way from the original website, almost unusable on a phone, via an app that I felt was really subpar and did not find a good use for, to finally today an App that I think is much better and that I use regularly.
The Garmin App for me does a very good job at providing a good snapshot of my last few activities, my day, training status (with all the useful first beat analysis). And for that status the pages look quite good to my taste.
I find looking at one activity or historical statistics still very counter intuitive and I prefer how ConnectStats does it, so I still use my app for that. Please Garmin don’t fix this, I would hate to not need to work on ConnectStats any more 😉
The big gap
To me the major gap for ConnectStats is with Strava. The social aspect, segments and UI look of Strava is far superior for me. I love going to Strava, following my friend and family, sharing pictures of our runs or rides.
I also like the ability to compare matched runs and segment over time.
All features that are nearly impossible to implement in ConnectStats on a device. This is where the local versus cloud decision hurt. But at the same time, I don’t have the ambition to beat a company like Strava, but rather just to fill the niche I personally am missing from the big players offerings. And same as for Garmin, I still like better the ability to explore and review statistics over times in details (not just the main stats of the last month or week), and for the ConnectStats I feel is still ahead of Strava.
The other aspect of Strava I consider ahead of ConnectStats is the UI and the look. I really like the look of the app. While that would be technically not impossible to fix, it is though definitely not something I am skilled at (design and good looks). I designed the app to be fully data driven, without room for any type of customized and nice looking views. As I said, focusing on the niche, not competing on others strengths.
The fighting arena
Where the three apps have made a lot of progress and are competing more directly is on the in-depth and advanced analysis of the data to see progress, training and fitness evolution.
Garmin has a lot of analytics like VO2Max, training load, training status, which I like to check and see how they are impacted by my training. In my experience the Garmin “feedback” is somewhat mysterious. Sometime reporting unproductive, while I felt I had done an easy run to rest. Lacking low anaerobic training after a long a slow run. Even though I am sometimes confused by the messages and numbers, I still like to see and always eager to get a productive status or improvement on my VO2Max over time.
Strava similarly show effort, intensity, fitness. I find strava effort more intuitive than Garmin training status or at least more consistent with my own feeling. I like the view showing you how you are doing this week versus the last with a low/high target band. Good way to do a checkpoint if I should push or not the last few days of the week.
By comparison to the more advanced looking (and likely research based) algorithm, ConnectStats is doing very simple analysis, but surprisingly simple remains quite useful to me. The fitness/fatigue graph is a very basic calculation (weighted moving average of different time period) but a good reflection of when I push or not and when the fatigue graph is low(er) than the fitness, usually a good indication I should push a bit more.
Of course there is also a difference in price as ConnectStats is free open source while for these features you need to pay for Strava premium (worth it to me).
The key strength of ConnectStats versus both Strava and Garmin is when it comes to power analysis. There are some basic power curve functionality in both Strava and Garmin for cycling, but nothing for running. Only ConnectStats provides. And even for cycling, I feel the analysis of ConnectStats are much more useful: the month over month comparison, the historical trends of the critical power plots are feature I continue to use and develop and probably at this point the highlights of ConnectStats.
Giants and underdog
To conclude, I am quite pleased that after 8 years, an independently developed app like ConnectStats continues to remain useful to me vs the large companies and visibly given the user base that continues to use the app daily, quite a few other people as well.
I enjoy maintaining ConnectStats, so I continue to hope that the competition will not make it completely obsolete too soon.
Thanks for reading and supporting the app