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Moves: fitness tracking without a pedometer in your pocket

Since blogging is a rather sedentary profession, many of us at TUAW try to find another way to stay in shape. Walking and running provide a good aerobic workout, so a lot of us have picked up one of the popular fitness metrics devices to help track our daily mileage.

Whether that device is a Fitbit, a Nike FuelBand or some other connected activity tracker, it's usually stuck to a belt loop or shirt so we can track every step. Features vary from brand to brand, but the core functionality is almost always a pedometer that tracks strides and extrapolates your activity level from the number of steps you take in a day.

Moves (free) is a new app based on a simple premise -- why do you need a separate activity tracker gadget that you can lose, forget or damage when you already have your iPhone with you almost all the time?

Moves tracks your activity simply by running in the background on your phone, using the phone's accelerometer to estimate your step count and Location Services to keep track of where you are.

Of course, for iPhone owners, the words "background" and "Location Services" bring up a mental alert about the times that you've used other location-aware apps -- and watched your iPhone charge level drop like an Acme anvil from the sky. The developers at ProtoGeo Oy admit right up front that "continued use of GPS running in the background can dramatically decrease battery life."

The developers say that their goal "was to create an app that will keep your phone running fine if you charge it nightly." In actual day-to-day use, I'd say they've met their goal. I've been using the app for five days on an iPhone 5 and have never completely run out of juice prior to plugging in the device at night. It's been close, though -- and without Moves running I usually have about half of my charge left every night.

With that acknowledged, and knowing that the Lightning-equipped iPhone 5 battery cases that could extend your power profile aren't quite shipping yet, does Moves actually work? Like the Fitbit and Nike FuelBand, it records your daily walking and running as well as other movement-based exercise. Like Runkeeper and similar apps, you can use Moves to track the amount of distance you cycle. Moves recognizes those different activities and displays a pulsing circle for each. Walking is measured in steps taken, while cycling and running are totaled in miles or kilometers.

That's where the similarity to a connected fitness tracker like the Fitbit ends. Since Moves shares the iPhone's awareness of where you are and where you go, it can tell how long you've spent at a specific location, show you the paths you took, and create a "storyline" of your day. The storyline is something totally unique to Moves; a timeline that is automatically constructed during the day as you move from place to place.

Through integration with Foursquare, you can identify places that you go to and see how long it may have taken you to walk from one location to another. A tap on a walk or run displays a map showing the exact path you took between locations, as well as the number of steps and your average speed.

One of my few gripes about Moves at this point is that it doesn't integrate with any other fitness services. For example, when I use Runkeeper to track walks, that information is immediately sent to a number of services including the Withings Health Mate app that tracks my weight and blood pressure. Once Moves starts creating those connections with other fitness apps or services, it will be much more useful.

Another issue is accuracy. I was able to adjust my stride length for the Fitbit, and I know that both the step count and distances are quite accurate. If I take a look at my recorded step count for last Saturday from the Fitbit, it shows that I walked 4,839 steps and about 2.22 miles. For the same day, Moves shows that I took 4,055 steps and doesn't tally the total distance -- only how far I walked during those bursts of energy between bars and restaurants on Saturday night. I'm not sure what happened to those other 784 steps, but perhaps having the phone in my pants pocket kept the accelerometer-based step-tracking from working correctly if I didn't take a fast stride.

I have to admit that I like being able to track my motion without a Fitbit, since I always have my iPhone in my pocket. My Fitbit (an original Ultra) occasionally has issues syncing with my Mac, and the older tracker model still needs a small base station plugged into a USB port to receive the sync data. Fitbit no longer sells the Ultra, and the new Fitbit One, Zip and Flex, all of which synchronize wirelessly with no additional dangly bits.

I'll continue to give Moves a try, although not while I'm at Macworld/iWorld this week. I need my iPhone to have a decent amount of charge at all times, so I'll pause Moves tracking during the trip.



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Software iPhone App Review

Why do you need a separate activity tracker gadget when you already have your iPhone with you almost all the time?