Pedometer Apps Turn Your iPhone into a Step Counter

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Step counting is a good way to ensure you’re staying active, and if you don’t have an Apple Watch, your iPhone can keep track of how many steps you take every day. Apple’s Health app includes step counting among its fitness metrics. Better yet, try a third-party pedometer app such as ActivityTracker Pedometer or Pedometer++.

One big problem about using your phone as a pedometer is that its accuracy depends greatly on how you’re carrying it.

For example, on family vacations, where my wife, my daughter and I are all walking together most of the time, we will see extremely different step counts - as much as a 30% difference between us! I think this is because I carry my phone in a pouch on my belt, my wife carries hers in a purse, and my daughter almost always has it in her hands running apps of one kind or another.

I suspect that other ways of carrying phones (in a pocket, on a belt clip, in a fanny-pack, strapped to an arm, in a backpack) are all going to produce wildly different results as well. And I have no way of knowing which will be most accurate.

With a mechanical pedometer, the instructions (usually) make it clear where and how to wear it for best results, but I don’t recall ever seeing instructions from Apple about how to make an iPhone count the most accurately.


Another problem with accuracy has to do with what happens on bumpy roads. On a recent several hour drive over bumpy roads my step count went up around 400 steps.

My wife have the varying count problem as well. My phone in a pants pocket, her’s in a purse.

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I have used Pedometer++ for 5 years and been relatively happy with it and often used the tip jar. I have other free and purchased pedometer-like apps and note their difference.

I simply went to a high school and walked exactly one mile on the track and then a second mile. With Pedometer++ I tweaked my height to reflect a slightly different stride length and it has been quite accurate even when comparing to GPS apps.

It is not perfect but it provides a pretty consistent record of my routes traveled daily. I love the “forgiveness” feature: if I miss a daily goal but reach it the next consecutive six days my streak will remain unbroken. The only time I really saw confusion in the app is when I bounced around Europe then back to the USA. It converted all my European time zone steps back to my local US time. The result was many days now had the goal missed and some days had the goal almost doubled. But all in all it has been very consistent–regardless of where I carry it on my body: cargo pocket on leg, hip pocket. back pocket, shirt pocket, backpack, waist pack vest pocket, or bicep strap.

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Please keep in mind that whenever you use a health or fitness related app, you are paying with your personal data. In almost all cases, the use of the iOS fitness API comes along with the need to share your health data that is stored in your phone (and to an extend in iCloud). You can’t really get around sharing it with Apple, and hopefully they stick to their promise to keep it safe and don’t sell it further.

But every new fitness app asks for access to health data again. And again. And again. You have to ask yourself: is that fancy third party pedometer app really that much better than the built-in Apple function?

Can you provide any specific references to apps that are doing this for dubious reasons? Location tracking is a real problem, but it’s a little harder to imagine a significant market for step-counts.