Media Releases

Research finds popular free fitness apps are inaccurate and unreliable

December 7, 2015

Toronto, ON—If you’re looking for a tool that will keep new year’s resolutions on track in 2016 and thought your smartphone could serve as an inexpensive, pocket-sized personal trainer, newly-published research has found that the three of the most popular free apps designed to track your fitness progress are seriously flawed.

The evaluation was led by Professor Guy Faulkner and U of T master’s student Krystn Orr and was published in the journal, BMC Research Notes.

“We know that more and more Canadians want to take their health into their own hands and these apps seem like a good way to do just that,” Orr explains. “Self-evaluation can be very effective in lifestyle change as well, so it’s important that people are getting the most accurate information possible and using tools they can trust.”

When they launched their project in November 2014, Accupedo, Moves, and the Runtastic Pedometer apps were the most popular free downloads, so they ran each through a series of tests to measure their accuracy. Each of the apps is compatible with Android and Apple smartphones and gathers step stats via the phones’ built-in accelerometers, GPS navigation tools, or a combination of both.

Subjects used the apps in a variety of scenarios. The most basic was a simple, 20-step test during which they wore a traditional pedometer on their hip and held the phone in their hand. They found that in each instance, the pedometer was pretty much bang-on, but the phone apps were off by about five percent. Similar results were found after a 40-step stair climb test, three days of unstructured, regular activity and a treadmill test.

Overall, researchers say there was “an unacceptable error percentage in all of the applications when compared to the pedometer.” Orr suggests investing in the wearable technology that was designed specifically for tracking movement as previous studies suggest they are more accurate. However, she points out that wearable tech like the FitBit can get pricey. “Really, there’s no reason you can’t just stick to a traditional pedometer. It’s probably the most reliable and cost-effective tool for self-tracking your steps.”

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Valerie Iancovich
Communications Specialist
Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education
University of Toronto