Awareness of your surroundings

Back in November I spotted a competition on the RunBritain Facebook page to win a new running app and a pair of headphones.  All you had to do was say why you should be one of the winners so I posted:

“This is the 1st winter I’ve run through so still getting used to the dark & cold. I’ve just reviewed the current leading apps on my blog (https://runningdanw.wordpress.com/), would love to try out Awareness.”

And on the 22nd of November I was announced as one of 5 winners!  Result!

A few days later I received my prize in the form of a package through the post containing a pair of Sennheiser/adidas MX680i headphones and an e-mail from Essency with an iTunes voucher for their running app, Awareness.

As a newbie to the world of regular running, with the nights drawing in and with many of my routes involving either crossing roads or running along roads without pavements the concept of the Awareness app grabbed my attention straight away: an app that uses the inline microphone of the headphones to relay the outside world allowing you to continue to listen to those speed-enhancing power songs.

What a great idea!

I had been warned that the app was somewhat complicated so I followed the instructions to set the sensitivity of the microphone, the volume of the feedback and the microphone delay and off I went for a decent run.

My first reaction to the Sennheiser headphones was that they were surprisingly comfortable.  I usually use headphones that have an over-the-ear hook for stability so I was doubtful that the in the ear MX680i’s were going to stay in but the spock-ear-shaped rubber doofers were not only unnoticeable but kept the earphones firmly in place during the run.

I really wanted to shout from the rooftops about the Awareness app but I have to be honest – I’ve struggled with it.

During that first run I found that the November wind not only whistled through the trees but was enough to activate the Awareness app via the microphone which then disconcertingly relayed not only the wind but the rubbing of the mic on my running top along with my deep breathing.

On subsequent runs I tested out changing the settings to reduce the sensitivity so that the app would activate on important noises like approaching vehicles however I couldn’t find the balance and either ended up not picking up the vehicles or I was back to hearing every slight sound which meant I may as well not had my music on.  Frequently the microphone only picked up the vehicles as they passed me, which is obviously too late to be helpful.  Perhaps I didn’t have enough patience to keep tweaking the settings but ultimately I just want to be out running.

I was told there was an in-app purchase for £1.50 that was “essential for runners”.  Maybe I’m a skinflint but I’m not getting enough from the main app to convince me to spend the extra cash.

There are two things that I think prevent this app from being a success for me; the first is that the settings are difficult to get right (especially if your route takes in a variety of surroundings)  and the second, is a little out of their control:

When I’m running the biggest danger comes from things I cannot see, which inherently are behind me.  The microphone (combined with the Awareness app) is the weapon that will protect me from these dangers.  However, the microphone is positioned on the earphone cable clipped to my chest thereby sitting in the location that is most sheltered from these dangers.

This isn’t the app’s fault, perhaps it would be more successful if the headphones had a microphone on, or near the ear, thereby picking up 360 degrees of sound.

I still think what the Awareness app is trying to achieve is commendable, it’s just the practicality of making it work in reality that gets in the way.  I think I’ll just continue to run with my one-in-one-out style.

The app is currently being offered for free (instead of the normal £4.99) until 31 December via iTunes so it’s a good opportunity to give it a go if you have compatible headphones.  And by all means, let me know if you find any tricks to get more out of the app than I have.

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