One minute out and he is gaining on me. I put my feet to the pavement hard, moving my tired legs just enough to outpace the racer in my shadow. Not too much longer and I’ll reach the finish line just a handful of yards ahead. Head down, stride by stride, making the final push as the seconds fill up the clock.
I cross the line feeling him right on my back, but turning around no one is there. Pulling my phone out of my pocket I find out I’ve managed to come in a good three minutes ahead of the ghost runner I’ve been racing: my previous time finishing this route.
CardioTrainer and an Android phone are all the incentive I need to push myself harder, and it is just one example of how WorkSmart Labs Inc. is employing technology to make fitness and wellness an engaging experience, encouraging both the hardcore athlete and average Joe to get out and get fit.
A Fitness Technology Company
Artem Petakov and the team at WorkSmart Labs didn’t set out with visions of phantom racers and cellular phones. No, in the beginning WorkSmart had slightly different ideas on how to merge fitness and technology. One of their first attempts involved developing augmented reality software for fitness machines, providing a replacement for the television or iPod with a virtual experience simulating outdoor running or biking. But gym owners were slow to pick up on the advanced equipment.
“We had this thing installed in a gym for 8 months, so the technology we had covered,” said Petakov of WorkSmart’s flagship software, “but the distribution part is actually what’s hard there. To get into all of these gyms and to have these machines maintained and repaired is the tricky part.” So Petakov, who by now had amassed a small team of software engineers, went back to the drawing board. There had to be a better way to make WorkSmart’s vision of increased fitness and wellness through technology accessible to the masses. More importantly, if they didn’t prove to their investors that they could turn a profit soon, the whole endeavor would end up as a pipe dream.
It was at this time that the WorkSmart team took notice of the emerging market for smartphone software, in part spurred on by the success of the iPhone. By that point in the fall of 2008, they realized they may have missed the boat with Apple’s industry-leading phone. Other fitness apps had beat them to the punch on that platform, but Petakov — no stranger to Google as the founder and leader of their User-Created Map Content team — saw the great potential in the Android operating system and its app marketplace that had been freshly announced the previous summer. While the folks at WorkSmart were no strangers to an old-fashioned foot race, this one was against the clock and they only had a month to deliver a functioning product.
WorkSmart was determined to have their CardioTrainer app ready to launch along with the upcoming Android Market, but never intended for it to be much more than a proof of concept. Setting to work with the wealth of knowledge they had obtained through their previous endeavors and the successes and failures of other fitness apps for mobile phones in mind, they met their goal, releasing the first version of their new app for Android smartphones at the beginning of November 2008.
The Perfect Developer’s Platform
For WorkSmart Labs, CardioTrainer on Android was the success they needed. It snowballed from just a simple demo of what their company could do to an app with over 600,000 downloads since its launch. On top of the free application, additional paid plug-ins were released to bring increased functionality and enjoyment to the basic CardioTrainer platform. And this was possible in no small part thanks to the opportunities Android and Google provide for developers.
Unlike competing smartphone platforms, Android provided the innovation, support, and ease of release necessary for developing the best software possible. “Android makes a lot of sense for us right now,” said Petakov, “It’s the perfect platform to develop a product; it has the greatest amount of capabilities.”
Along with open access to code and core functions of the Android operating system, Google was equally open with their support of WorkSmart, recognizing the potential of Artem Petakov and team. Whether it was with advice for software integration or with advertising and marketing, Google wanted its developers to succeed from the get go.
Another key feature of Android and the Android Market that worked in WorkSmart Labs favor was the ease of releasing updates and testing beta software. Without the long approval process of other app markets, WorkSmart was able to release new features to small segments of their users for testing, and later implement these advancements quickly for all users. This is a factor that Petakov noted is indispensable in the software industry, allowing for small and large updates and bug fixes to be available weekly if necessary.
The Future of Fitness Technology
While WorkSmart Labs’ most succesful product is CardioTrainer for Android, they do not see themselves simply as mobile phone app makers. Instead, they want to be a company that makes fitness and wellness achievable and fun for as many people as possible. In the United States — where 85 percent of people don’t exercise — the mobile phone just happens to make sense as one way to meet this goal. People hardly go anywhere without their phone, and smartphones are increasingly present, so taking advantage of this “always on” device to help people get healthy is a no brainer.
WorkSmart does hope to extend its presence beyond just cell phones and Android, and other platforms aren’t out of the question once all the kinks are worked out. Artem Petakov even hints that a return to their roots at the local gym is not out of the question, but with the middleman removed. Instead the phone would still do the bulk of tracking and machines would be outfitted with special sensors for relaying information. They are already in talks with several manufacturers and carriers.
At the end of the day, if WorkSmart can make exercise more fun, social, and rewarding, then they have already achieved a large part of what they set out to do. They have been plugging away for a few years now, but be on the lookout for this company to really break out along with Android and its rise in the smartphone marketplace.
To learn more about WorkSmart Labs Inc., visit www.worksmartlabs.com.
A special thanks to Artem Petakov and Charlie Sneath for their cooperation and insights.
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