One of the big selling points of wearable devices is that they will be able to help us keep track of various fitness metrics.
However, a new report claims smartphones are just as good (if not slightly better) at tracking physical activity as the most popular wearables on the market.
“Our findings suggest that smartphone apps could prove to be a more widely accessible and affordable way of tracking health behaviors,” noted the author of the study, which was conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.
Trying to establish consistency between different fitness trackers, researchers gave users three different wearable devices (a Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP24 and Nike FuelBand) and two smartphones — including an iPhone 5s, running the FitBit, Health Mate and Moves apps.
While the wearables varied wildly in their findings, with a range of -22.7 percent to -1.5 percent difference (Nike’s now-defunct FuelBand was the worst), smartphones only differed slightly in terms of mean step counts. Conclusion: If accuracy is your goal (and why wouldn’t it be?) you might be better off sticking to your iPhone.
In a sense, the study is a bit of a double-edged sword for Apple. On the one hand, it’s great that iPhones are now so good at tracking our steps on a daily basis. My wife looks at her iPhone to see how far she’s walked most days, but at least currently it would never cross her mind to wear a fitness tracker like a Jawbone UP or Fitbit.
At the same time, it means Apple has an extra challenge when it comes to selling the Apple Watch. Fitness tracking isn’t the only thing Apple Watch is designed to do, but it’s certainly a pretty major use case, which has formed the basis for wearable companies like Fitbit. Apple’s never been afraid to cannibalize its own products (e.g. the iPhone replacing the iPod as de facto music player) but in this situation, has it cannibalized its new product in advance?
For the sake of Apple and its customers, I hope other Apple Watch apps are up to snuff. From the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard about Apple Watch, I think fitness tracking is barely going to register among the top 10 uses for Apple’s upcoming smartwatch.