How Accurate Are Step Counters?

According to a brand new study published last year in the Journal of Sports Sciences, your iPhone’s step count is probably not the most accurate pedometer you can have access to, but what’s great iPhone tracking in particular is that you’re most likely walking more steps than your phone is accurately tallying, meaning you’re more ahead than you originally would think.

Tonic reports that researchers at the University of British Columbia devised a two-part study — one which was conducted under lab conditions, and the other in a real-world setting to compare iPhone’s Health app with a wearable waist-worn pedometer built solely for the purpose of step counting. On average, it was found that the iPhone step counter underestimated steps walked by about 1,340 steps during a typical day. Meaning that, if your iPhone’s step counter says that you trekked the recommended 10,000 steps per day, you probably did about 20 percent more than that.

Additionally, the International Business Times took it upon themselves to publicly note that in the new study, which originally was involving 33 participants, two iPhones (one personal and one shared) which were used per participant in order to asses device accuracy and possible user error. Researchers then found that iPhone step counting apps were more accurate when participants walked at higher speeds, but were significantly less so at slower speeds. While the shared devices tended to be a little more accurate than the personal phones. Tonic also reports that some user error was reported — like when participants forgot to bring their phones along on trips to the restroom or to get water, for instance.

The study also noted that while your iPhone’s step counter is not necessarily perfectly accurate, it can still give you a some-what accurate sense of how much walking you’re really doing each day. According to Tonic, study author Guy Faulkner said in a press release that, for the most accurate reading, “You just have to have your phone on you at all times.” Additionally, during the study, researchers didn’t observe other phones’ step counting apps, or other fitness trackers like the Apple watch, Fitbit, or other wearables. According to The Berkeley Science Review, fitness trackers are still pretty new, and research is limited in terms of how well they stack up in terms of accuracy. And while your iPhone step count might have some shortcomings, Fitbits hold up pretty well under scrutiny, according to Berkeley, at least as far as step count trackers go.

At the end of the day, USA Today also noted that the point of setting that goal is to simply sit less and exercise more, in order to improve your health in the long run. Why is this important? Other than the long-term health benefits, obsessing over the number of steps you take per day doesn’t give you that much useful information about your health, except for the fact that you walked a certain number, which can also be monitored in various, more accurate ways, using other technological products specially made for it.

Despite the fact that the results from the new studies cannot be directly transferred to real-life settings and figures, they are still important because they can isolate the step accuracy at different speeds and as a result, help where it is possible to control the environment and force an individual to pay closer attention to their own health. Whether you walked 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000 steps, you can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that, if you’re iPhone step counter says that you hit 10,000 steps in a given day, you probably exceeded your walking goal by quite a lot — in fact, it’s said to be around 20% more.

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