Study Finds iPhone Miscounts Your Steps

Last Edited: December 10, 2017 | Published: December 10, 2017 by

Study Finds iPhone Miscounts Your Steps

Do you rely on your iPhone to keep track of your steps and monitor your health? If so, then there is something you should know. If you are shy of hitting your step goal, the health app on your iPhone may actually be to blame, not your lack of exercise.

According to a new study from the University of British Columbia, the iPhone app could be underestimating your steps by as much as 20 percent. Now that’s a lot of steps.

“Any time you’re measuring something, there’s going to be a little bit of error,” said Mark Duncan, PhD candidate at UBC’s School of Kinesiology and lead author of the study.

For the test, researchers used 33 participants divided into two parts, with the first part of the research conducted in a lab, with the second part of the test taking place during normal living conditions.

“At lower speeds, [the iPhones] were less accurate, missing about nine to ten per cent of steps,” said Duncan.

Researchers did find that this gap did narrow when the steps rose above five kilometers per hour. This placed the iPhone in line with most traditional pedometers.

Unfortunately, the gap widened to 21.5 percent, or over 1,340 steps a day when done in real world conditions.

While some of this discrepancy can be blamed on the iPhone, some of it is actually our fault. In many cases, it includes how we carry it or when we set it down and pick it back up again. It seems that we don’t take the time to properly carry our phones with us as we would a traditional pedometer.

“A lot of that could be attributed to people not necessarily bringing their phones with them, or carrying them in their [backpacks] instead of on their persons — like in their hands, or in their pockets.”

Leaving your phone behind when you make a trip to the bathroom, or run out to grab a coffee at work, seems to be where the error stems from, Duncan says.

Researchers have been cautioned on using iPhone data such as this for studies because of this inaccuracy. “Researchers should be cautioned in considering the use of iPhone models as a research grade pedometer for physical activity surveillance or evaluation, likely due to the iPhone not being continually carried by participants; if compliance can be maximized then the iPhone might be suitable.” For more accurate readings, the researchers recommend avoiding iPhones and sticking with traditional pedometers.

So what does this mean for you? First, you should make sure you carry your phone with you properly and don’t just leave it in a bag. If you want a more accurate count, try and keep it with you, even during those times when you probably can do without it. Still, when you check your step count, just keep in mind that it could be underestimating your steps, so you may have hit that 10,000 goal after all, but your phone just doesn’t know it.

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