Bones in Motion trys to catch up to Garmin with cell phone GPS tracking for athletes

Location-based app maker Bones in Motion is looking to take a bite out of Garmin and other GPS manufacturers, offering up a service that lets runners and bikers user their GPS-enabled cell phones to track distance, speed, and how their training is progressing. Based out of Austin, Texas, the five-person outfit currently has deals signed with Sprint and Verizon, and is in talks to bring the service to other major carriers.

Founded by Andrew Graham and John Warner in 2003, the duo originally envisioned a location-based app for tourism that would trigger relevant content when a visitor passed a certain location. But realizing that GPS on cell phones was still very much in a nascent stage, and that out-of-towners are not among the earliest of adopters, they shifted their focus to a demographic that is always eager to adopt new tech: Athletes.

The application, launched in February of 2006 and dubbed BiM Active, is purchased by an over-the-air download and costs a monthly subscription of $5.99 to $9.99 depending on the carrier. Once purchased, BiM Active tracks a runner or biker via GPS and calculates distance, speed, caloric burn, route, elevation, weather, degree of difficulty and allows you to wirelessly upload all this content all the data a central server, so you can show off your monster run to fellow enthusiasts. The program can also be used by snowboarders, hikers, rowers — pretty much any activity where it’s helpful to know how far you traveled and how quickly you did it.

The program gives some easy branding opportunities for companies in the same space. Currently, the program can be found at the Runner’s World website with the Runner’s World brand slapped on top. The company hopes to reach out and strike further sponsorships deals with other athletically-inclined brands.

Bones in Motion was, according to co-founder Andrew Graham, “one of the first LBS apps to go up on Sprint and Verizon. The carriers were looking for a very friendly face to put on location-based technology, something not so Big Brother.” The program has also garnered a couple of awards, winning the Navteq Global LBS Challenge in 2005, and the Brew Developer’s Award in 2007. The company has received only angel funding up until this point, with no institutional support, though Graham says that the company has been offered term sheets. However, Graham says, “Our next big carrier deployment will mean we’ll be able to cover 75 percent of the US subscriber base, so we’ll be getting to the point where it makes sense to get institutional support.”

Compared to what’s already on market, the most obvious advantage of BiM Active is price. A basic GPS unit for bicyclists from Garmin starts at around $250, or around 41 months of service from BiM Active. However, there are several things that may give hardcore athletes pause. BiM uses United States Geological Survey data, supplemented by GPS, to track altitude which is accurate to 10-20 meters. Garmin and others use barometric pressure combined with GPS to give altitude readings, which are accurate to about 3 meters. BiM Active also doesn’t have support for via Bluetooth heart rate monitors such as those put out by Alive Technolgies or Polar, which any athlete in training is going to want to see (though the application does support imported heart rate data from third-party applications). While runners probably won’t mind keeping their phone on an arm strap or pants pocket, bicyclists like to mount GPS units on their handlebars for easy viewing, something that may be difficult with a cell phone. Also worrying is that traditional GPS units are weather-proofed; cell phones, as I can personally attest to, are not.

Still, as GPS continues to appear on more and more cell phones, location-based apps that help track fitness training are going to become more popular, and Bones in Motion is well-positioned to be at the forefront of that particular niche.