How does the iPhone track steps?

18 May 2020, 05:54

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Many people might not be aware but the Apple iPhone includes pedometer functionality that can count the number of steps you make in a day. In fact, it does this automatically, all the time.

This can be incredibly useful as part of any fitness improvement plan.

How does the iPhone step tracking work?
The iPhone can track steps because its circuitboard contains a handful of very small accelerometers. As their name suggests, these can detect and measure acceleration. That is to say, they sense when the phone is being moved in any of the 3D planes – and how quickly.

This can be used for some astonishing virtual reality tricks within apps, but on a much more simple level the accelerometers can also be used to detect the typical movements a body makes while walking or running. Apple spent a lot of time modelling these movements should the iPhone be stored in a trouser pocket, for example, or even if it’s strapped to an arm in a holster.

And this tracking happens all the time too, even when the phone’s is not being used.

Is the iPhone’s pedometer accurate? Mostly. A recent study said it’s accuracy is plus or minus around 14%. So, if you undertake 5,000 steps a day on average, the iPhone might miss 700 of those, or it might over-count 700 of them. The same research points out that the iPhone is even worse when it comes to estimating the distance you’ve walked, though, so take that with a pinch of salt.

For better accuracy you should consider couple a dedicated activity tracker for your iPhone, or an Apple Watch.

How do I view my steps on the iPhone
Viewing the number of steps you’ve undertaken, do the following: Open the Heath app, ensure the Summary icon is selected at the bottom of the screen, and then tap the Steps heading.

To view the data for just today, select the D tab at the top of the screen. The W, M and Y tabs show weekly, monthly and yearly totals instead, respectively.

How do I calibrate the iPhone’s pedometer?
The iPhone’s accelerometer/pedometer calibrates itself automatically, so don’t need to do anything.

You can force a reset of this calibration data by doing the following if you truly believe this is required. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Settings app, then tap the Privacy heading.
  2. Tap the Location Services heading, then tap the System Services heading.
  3. Tap the switch alongside Motion Calibration and Distance. This will temporarily turn it off. Then tap it again to turn it back on again.

How to add your own steps data to the iPhone
If you’ve an old pedometer (such as a belt-mounted model), or an activity monitor device incompatible with the iPhone, then you can add the step data it records to the Health app at the end of each day.

Open the Heath app, ensure the Summary icon is selected at the bottom of the screen, and then tap the Steps heading. Then tap the Add Data button at the top right, and input the daily figure.

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