Health and fitness with iOS
Make the most of the biometric tech in your iPhone or iPad
Apple opened up the iPhone’s biometric potential in 2010 with the release of iOS 4 and a software framework called CoreMotion, which allowed developers to access movement data captured by the device’s multiple sensors. But it was three more recent developments that signalled a turning point in Apple’s support for health and fitness tracking.
The first came in 2013 with the announcement of the iPhone 5s and its dedicated M7 motion coprocessor, which captures motion data from the device’s accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. The second was iOS 8, which brought us Apple’s much-vaunted Health app – a centralised hub for storing all your health data, categorised by movement, weight, nutrition, blood pressure, body temperature and a ream of other analytics.
The third development was the introduction of Apple Watch in 2015 (see page 81 for more), the tech giant’s late-to-the-game smartwatch that now competes in a well-established world of wearable technology.
If you own an iPhone 5s or later then you can already track your basic activity through the Health app; simply carrying your iOS device on your person lets you track number of steps taken, distance covered and calories burned. If you own an iPhone 6 (or even an iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 4) you can track stairs climbed too, thanks to the more advanced M8 coprocessor in these devices and the addition of a dedicated barometer sensor that measures elevation changes. And if you have an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, an integrated M9 motion processor does all these things continually without gobbling battery life.
These tracking features are turned on by default in iOS 9, but if you want to turn them off you can do so by opening the Settings app, tapping Privacy > Motion & Fitness and toggling the switch next to Fitness Tracking.
Stick with them though, because the Health app is pretty useless otherwise. Open it and you’ll see the Dashboard – this is where a series of graphs visualise tracked data above options to browse them by day, week, month and year. You can edit the Dashboard to see only the information you’re interested in: simply tap the Health Data tab, select a metric such as Fitness > Active Energy and then toggle the Show on Dashboard switch.
Let’s be honest, Apple’s Health app isn’t terribly inspiring. Thankfully there are plenty of far more spritely (and free) third-party apps that access your iPhone’s motion and GPS data which you can use instead. One of our favourites is UP by Jawbone (jawbone.com), due to its elegant interface, a ‘Smart Coach’ that posts health and fitness advice in your daily activity feed, and its social media integration, which enables you to ‘gamify’ your activity by challenging friends and family to activity ‘duels’.
For tracking exercise with your iPhone, there’s Nike+ Running (nike.com), which offers in-run audio feedback, and logs distance, time, elevation and workout intensity, plotting these data points on a map. MapMyRun (mapmyrun. com) offers similar in-depth analyses of your runs, but takes things further with 24/7 tracking and logging options for over 600 types of activity. Both apps offer training programmes as in-app purchases if you want to take your fitness regime to the next level.
Keen cyclists and aspiring athletes on the other hand should check out MapMyRide (mapmyride.com) or Strava Running and Cycling (strava.com), both of which offer similar features to the apps above, but also benefit from recommended riding routes and like-minded user communities.
If you’re interested in a dedicated wearable to track your activity then your options are legion. The least expensive we recommend is the MisFit Flash (£25), a pebble-shaped device that tracks steps, distance and burned calories, and displays progress towards a pre-established goal using a circle of LEDs; it also monitors your sleep and lasts six months on a single battery. The Withings Pulse Ox (£80) is the next step up and adds
How much you rely on biometric data in an effort to improve your health and fitness is up to you
elevation, on-demand heart rate and blood oxygen level measurements to the typical tracking repertoire. Then there’s Jawbone’s UP3 (£120): this wristband packs a bevy of skin and ambient temperature sensors, one which measures resting heart rate, but the rest don’t really deliver much useful information, which is a shame, because the UP app is so well made.
The latest contender is Moov Now (£60), another pebble-shaped sensor that tracks your daily activities and acts as a dedicated sports coach, with a host of motivational training plans. Sadly its iOS app isn’t so great, so our favourite remains the Fitbit Charge HR wristband (£100), due to its clear OLED display, incoming call notifications, and elevation, sleep, and all-day, on-demand heart rate tracking – not to mention the excellent Fitbit app.
Thanks to Apple’s HealthKit API (see opposite) the Health app can sync with many third-party apps and devices, but the process of enabling Health integration differs slightly depending on what you’re using. Endomondo app users, for instance, can go to Menu > Settings > Connect & Share > Health > Connect with Health, while owners of Jawbone or MisFit devices can sync to Apple Health by enabling access in their tracker’s companion app – or in the case of Fitbit users, via a third-party sync solution (syncsolver.com).
This is the real beauty of Apple Health: its ability to corral data from multiple sources and give you a comprehensive biometric overview. For example, your day could begin by stepping on a Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale (£85), syncing this measurement to the Health app with Sync Solver, and then going for a run wearing an Apple Watch (from £299). On returning home you might take a diastolic and systolic blood pressure reading using Withings’ Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor (£90) synced to Apple Health. This would allow you to view it alongside yesterday’s blood pressure reading, check it against your heart rate and even compare it with another Smart Scale measurement that revealed the effects of a low-calorie diet you had synced from the UP app.
Of course, how much you rely on biometric data in an effort to improve your health and fitness is really up to you. But it’s unwise to use it to self-diagnose, treat or monitor any medical condition without consulting your doctor first.
Stay on track with your fitness goals using the dedicated Activity and Workout apps on your Apple Watch.