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New apps for the new year

party aftermath
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Can I down just one more glass of egg nog? It wouldn't kill me to finish off the peppermint bark, would it? What's the fun in watching all those college bowl games without nachos and chicken wings?

While you're pondering these questions and wondering how you'll make it through the holiday season intact, app developers are working hard on the inevitable next step: the New Year's resolution.

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Health and fitness apps are popping up by the day, thanks to a new crop of wearable smart devices, faster and faster Internet speeds and data—tons and tons of data. There's no better time for these developers to reach out to consumers than the holiday season, when we're riddled with guilt about our nightly indulgences and how to compensate for them.

You'll be hearing plenty about health and wellness resolutions in the coming days. Here are just a few apps to consider as you say goodbye to 2014 and plan for the year ahead.

Grokker produced yoga videos.
Source: Grokker
Grokker produced yoga videos.

Grokker

Let's face it, gym memberships are expensive. Just getting there and back is time consuming. Running or cycling outside is great, but during the depths of winter, it's already dark by the time we leave work. And finding time to exercise with kids around? Forget about it.

Not so fast (or slow), says Lorna Borenstein. The mother of three and long-time tech executive has spent the past two years working on Grokker, because she faced exactly that conundrum.

Grokker is a big and ever-expanding database of videos from fitness and yoga experts, designed to be watched and experienced in your living room or hotel room. There's also a cooking element to it with videos from professional chefs, but we'll stick to the workouts.

Grokker's focus is on high-quality production, with a wide range of fitness options. Whether you need a 5-minute neck stretch or nighttime meditation video or you're a hardcore athlete looking for an intense 90-minute calorie killer, Grokker aspires to serve. Are you a fan of Pilates or do you prefer kickboxing? Grokker has both.

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For $9.99 a month, consumers get all the streaming they want, as well as the ability to communicate with the experts and ask questions via a chat function. The service is designed for Web browsers on laptops and tablets, but Borenstein says a mobile app is just around the corner.

To encourage holiday sign-ups, Grokker is offering new users a free first month through an offer called "Kickstart your New Year's resolution." Registrants also get the chance to win things like T-shirts, water bottles and additional free months of videos. All Grokker users can get recommendations on specific exercise plans for losing weight, gaining strength, or working through that shoulder soreness.

Created as a passion project of sorts, San Francisco-based Grokker raised $5.5 million from investors including Khosla Ventures and First Round Capital and now has 30 full-time employees. Borenstein says the most gratifying part of the job is hearing from users, who often live nowhere near a gym, thanking her for helping them get in shape.

"A woman just wrote to us and said she's lost 50 pounds using Grokker and she's happy," Borenstein said. "She lives in rural Kentucky."

Borenstein isn't disclosing how many people have signed up for Grokker. She is saying that in 2014, members burned over 10 million calories.

That's a vanity metric if there ever was one.

HealthIQ (L)  and RockMyRun apps (R).
Source: Hi.! (L) | RockMyRun (R)
HealthIQ (L) and RockMyRun apps (R).

Health IQ

It was 2010 and Munjal Shah had just sold his start-up, Like.com, to Google for over $100 million. The next day, a Saturday, Shah was running a 10K race in Palo Alto, California, when he felt severe chest pains. He thought he was having a heart attack. He was 37.

The emergency room doctors never did figure out the problem. Neither did the patient. For Shah, the experience began a journey that led him to starting Hi.Q and the app Health IQ.

"Our mission is to increase the health literacy of the world," Shah said.

Health IQ just entered the iOS app store in December, and isn't yet available on Android. The Mountain View, California- based company consists of nine co-founders that have all come together in some way, shape or form because of a health scare. The idea is that people don't know if they're healthy, because they don't know what being healthy means.

Shah and his team have spent almost two years working with health experts to come up with a way for consumers to test themselves, creating a FICO score for health, as Shah likes to call it. Once people have a sense of what they know and don't know, they can start learning how to get healthier.

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After downloading the app, users are asked to provide some basic personal information like location and date of birth. They're then given a 30-question multiple choice quiz that provides a general assessment of their health knowledge.

To get a high score, you need to know that cooking tomatoes increases the bioavailability of lycopene, that the recommended serving of peanut butter is the size of a pingpong ball (not a golf ball) and that brushing your teeth after eating helps prevent unnecessary snacking while on a diet.

Health IQ offers an explanation after each answer and says what percentage of respondents guessed correctly.

After the general test, the app lets people move on to more specific subjects and to personalize their New Year's resolution. For example, if someone wants to eat less and lose weight (the most popular resolution) or to eat at home more often in the new year, a quiz surfaces with questions for achieving the goal. After the quiz, the app suggests experts on specific topics that the user can follow.

Health IQ is a free app, and Shah says he isn't yet focused on how the company will eventually generate revenue. Hi.Q raised $5.5 million from investors including Charles River Ventures, Greylock Partners, Menlo Ventures and First Round Capital.

RockMyRun

Did you know exercising to music that synchronizes with your body rhythms improves performance? Rock My World founder Adam Riggs-Zeigen found the supporting evidence so compelling that he decided to build a business on it.

Riggs-Zeigen, a former Qualcomm executive, launched an app called RockMyRun in 2013 to improve the running experience and boost performance. There were already plenty of ways for runners to listen to music while exercising, whether using their own playlists or a streaming service like Pandora or Spotify. But how do you match that with an individual's cadence?

RockMyRun called upon DJs to create mixes based on genre and beats per minute so runners could get playlists that matched their pace without those annoying gaps between songs. In other words, it's like being in a dance club, only you're running.

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RockMyRun's brand new heart rate feature is where the truly novel technology resides. Any heart rate monitor with Bluetooth LE (low energy) technology can sync up with the app, enabling RockMyRun to recognize a runner's heart beat and adjust the speed of the music accordingly.

"Bluetooth LE being in a wide range of devices is one key factor," said Riggs-Zeigen, whose six-person start-up is based in San Diego. "The second is the heart rate easily coming from the wrist."

Wrist devices from Mio and Garmin (and eventually Apple) communicate data to smartphones and enable heart rate readings without the use of a chest strap, opening up the market to a much wider audience, Riggs-Zeigen said.

RockMyRun is free and ad-supported for mixes of up to 45 minutes. For ad-free mixes of all lengths, users can pay a membership of $4.99 a month or $35.99 a year. The app is among the top 25 grossing health and fitness apps on both iOS and Android. Like Pandora, RockMyRun pays royalties for streaming rights. The company has also raised a little over $1 million in venture financing.

Music snobs, who also happen to be fitness junkies, may find the app a bit lacking, because the particular songs are all decided by a DJ. Wouldn't it be great for RockMyRun's technology to work with personal music collections, so runners can be assured of enjoying the songs?

Stay tuned for just those sorts of features in 2015.

"We're working on interesting ways to categorize and serve the right songs at the right times," Rigg-Zeigen said.