Losing weight and saving money are always among the top New Year’s resolutions. If you own a smartphone, especially an iPhone 5s, you can easily make some headway on both resolutions, thanks to apps from Fitbit, Nike and others that let you track workouts—without buying a dedicated activity tracker.
The Fitbit iOS app’s latest version (2.1), released Dec. 30, 2013, has a new feature called MobileTrack that turns an iPhone 5s into a quasi Fitbit tracker. The free app now tracks your daily steps, distance traveled and estimated calories burned without the need for a Fitbit device. As long as you take your iPhone 5s with you everywhere (and who doesn’t?), you’re good to go. You do still need a Fitbit gadget to track other stats, such as active minutes, stairs climbed and your sleep patterns.
The Fitbit app and others like it utilize the iPhone 5s's M7 motion coprocessor, which no other current iPhones have. The M7 coprocessor is specifically designed to measure motion-related data from the phone’s accelerometer, gyroscope and compass.
The M7’s main advantage is that apps like Fitbit can get data from the chip without taxing the iPhone’s main A7 processor, which prevents the ongoing motion tracking from significantly draining the iPhone 5s battery. Based on my experiences testing some of these apps, including the Moves app, you can expect to see your iPhone 5s’s battery drain more quickly during the day.
Speaking of Moves, it’s a gorgeous and free activity-tracking app for iOS and Android devices. The app continuously runs in the background and tracks your walking, cycling and running; estimates calories burned for each activity; and plots your daily activity on a "storyline" complete with locations.
Though the app did suck battery life noticeably on my iPhone 5s, there’s a "Battery Saving" setting that helps reduce the impact (but also makes tracking a bit less accurate). Android users should note that the app isn’t supported on some popular devices, including the Samsung Galaxy Note II.
Nike+ Move, Nike’s free activity tracking app, works only on the iPhone 5s. (The app was used to show off the new M7 coprocessor during Apple’s iPhone 5s launch last fall.)
The app monitors your steps and workouts and converts them into NikeFuel, Nike’s universal point system for measuring activity. The app does a good job of keeping you motivated, encouraging you to be active for five minutes every hour, for instance.
Like Fitbit, Nike sells its own dedicated activity tracker, the Nike+ FuelBand SE, which you’ll need to buy for more advanced tracking (such as sleep). Still, if you’re ready to kickstart your exercise but don't want to invest in an activity tracker, any of these three apps will do the trick.