Tag Archives: data analysis

Comparing Apple Watch and Fitbit One for Step Tracking

ApplevFitbit

When the Apple Watch was announced I started waiting with bated breath to see how it could be useful for Quantified Self and self-tracking purposes. Of course this means staying up late and making sure I had one on order as soon as possible. I put in my order shortly after midnight on launch day for a 42mm Space Gray with the black sport band.

On May 19th my Apple Watch arrived, coincidentally just after we wrapped on our first Bay Area Apple Watch Users Group meeting (which was fantastic and I highly recommend joining). I set it up and started figuring out how it worked as an activity tracker. I have a keen interest in activity tracking, not just as a self-tracker, but also as a graduate student studying how people use activity tracker data to understand and impact their lives. In that vein, I’ve been a consistent Fitbit user for over four years, transitioning from the original Fitbit to the Ultra, and then to my current Fitbit One. I’m a big fan of the Fitbit and use it as my personal “gold standard” for activity tracking. It’s accurate, consistent, and easy to use. Does that hold true for the Apple Watch? Let’s find out.

What did I do?

I wore my Apple Watch every day, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep at night. I set up my charging station on my nightstand, which is also where my Fitbit One spends its nights. I wasn’t thinking about this data analysis when I first started wearing the watch, but looking back over the past month I am confident saying that if I was wearing my Fitbit I was also wearing the watch.

This data analysis includes data from May 20th to June 23rd, or 35 days of data collection. My activities varied as a normal function of my work and life, meaning I didn’t purposefully mix things up or engage in activities just for testing purposes. Many days were sedentary, some days had longer walking periods, and in the 35 days I ran seven times at distances between four and nine miles.

How did I do it?

Exporting the data from both the Fitbit and the Apple Watch is not a trivial task, but thanks to a few pieces of software I was able to access and analyze both data sets.

Apple Watch
The Apple Watch stores the data it collects in Apple’s Health app using Healthkit. A quick glance into the Health app indicates that it is storing minute-level step data from the Apple Watch. Apple built in a data export function for the Health app, but it’s in a proprietary XML format that I’m not super familiar with. Thankfully there is QS Access. Our team at QS Labs created simple app that connects to Apple Health and allows you to export your data in a easy to use .csv file.

To export my data I first made sure that the Apple Watch had the highest priority for the data sources that feed the “steps” data for Apple Health. This is important because all newer iPhones (5s, 6, 6+) also natively create step data and store it in the Health app. I then used QS Access to create a data export for steps. I chose the hourly function as it’s the highest level of granularity the QS Access app currently offers for data export.

Fitbit
Fitbit recently introduced a data export feature. While this is a great step forward for them, and for their millions of users, the export feature is a bit limited. You can only export daily aggregate data and only one month of data is exportable at a time. Since I had access to hourly data from the Apple Watch I wanted to match that granularity.

I turned to my good friend, and past colleague, Aaron Coleman. Aaron runs a unique startup called Fitabase, which was built to help researchers, organizations, and individuals get easy access to activity tracker data. I spun up my account at Fitabase, which has been collecting and storing my Fitbit data for the last few years, chose the date range and downloaded my hourly step data.

I wanted to get right to my core question, “How accurate is the Apple Watch compared to the Fitbit One?” so I imported both data files into Google Spreadsheets, did a bit of data formatting, created a pivot table, then made some simple graphs. The full data set is available here if you want explore more complex statistics or visualizations.

What Did I Learn?

When compared to the Fitbit One, the Apple Watch is fairly accurate for step tracking. What do I mean by fairly accurate? Let’s dive into the data.

Daily Steps

When I explored my daily step totals it appeared that the Apple Watch counts more steps than my Fitbit One, but not that many more. Here’s the data you need to know:

  • Fitbit Total Steps: 308,955
  • Apple Watch Total Steps: 317,971
  • >Difference: 9,016 or 2.91% of the total steps (counted by Fitbit)

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I created a difference category by subtracting Fitbit steps from Apple Watch steps for each day. This allowed me to see how different the data was day over day. The mean difference indicated that Apple Watch counted 258 steps more per day on average. Important to note that the daily difference was highly variable with a standard deviation of 516 steps. Looking at the scatterplot and histogram below you can see a few clear outliers, but what appears to be an otherwise normal(ish) distribution for the difference in step counts.

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Hourly Steps
What about when we look at a higher level of granularity? I also explored the hourly steps data and compared the Fitbit and Apple Watch. On average the Apple Watch counted 11 more steps per hour than the Fitbit One during this period. Again, this was highly variable with a standard deviation of 85 steps, and a range from overcounting by 462 steps to undercounting by 696 steps. I haven’t yet filtered out sleep time (0 steps) so the mean difference per hour in this data set is likely skewed low.

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I also looked into one more question that I though was interesting. Is there a significant difference in daily or hourly step data as a function of the total steps? Or, more simply, when I’m more active does the Apple Watch still stay consistent?

It appears that being more active doesn’t have a significant impact on how accurate the Apple Watch is tracking and counting steps. I created scatterplots for this relationship and added a simple linear trendline. In both cases, the trendline indicated that only a small amount of variability in the difference between the devices was accounted for by the total steps taken.

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So What?

I’m not ready to give up my Fitbit just yet, but I was happy to see that the Apple Watch is an accurate step tracking device. Of course there are caveats to this data set. It’s somewhat small, a little over a month of data, and I didn’t do any “ground truth” testing where I counted my actual steps. However, I feel more confident now that whether I’m walking around my apartment, my nieghborhood, or going on runs, the Apple Watch will accurately reflect those activities.

What’s Next?

Like most other runners who are using the Apple Watch I’m interested to dive into the heart rate data to test it’s accuracy. I’ve already collected a few runs, but will doing a bit more testing to compare to other common heart rate trackers.

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Fitbit vs. Moves: An Exploration of Phone and Wearable Data

Like many people paying attention to the press around Quantified Self, self-tracking, and wearable technology I was intrigued by the many articles that focused on a newly published research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The letter, Accuracy of Smartphone Applications and Wearable Devices for Tracking Physical Activity Data, authored by Meredith A. Case et al., described a laboratory study that examined a few different smartphone applications and self-tracking devices. Specifically, they tested the accuracy of steps reported by the three different apps: Moves (Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5s),  Withings Health Mate (iPhone 5s), and the Fitbit app (iPhone 5s), three wrist-worn devices: Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Flex, and the Jawbone UP24, and three waist-worn devices: Fitbit One, Fitbit Zip, and the Digi-Walker SW-200. Participants walked on a treadmill at 3.0 MPH for trials of 500 steps and 1500 steps while a research assistant manually counted the actual steps taken. Here’s what they found:

JAMA_PhoneWearables

As the data from this research isn’t available we’re left to rely on the authors description of the data. They state that differences in observed vs device recorded steps counts “ranged from−0.3% to 1.0% for the pedometer and accelerometers [waist], −22.7%to −1.5% for the wearable devices [wrist], and −6.7% to 6.2% for smartphone applications [phone apps].” Overall the authors concluded that devices and smartphone apps were generally accurate for measuring steps. However, much of the press around this study dipped into the realm of sensationalism or attention grabbing headlines, for instance: Science Says FitBit Is a Joke.

Part of our work here at Quantified Self Labs is to encourage and help individuals make sense of their own data. After reading this research letter, or one of the many articles which covered it, you might be asking yourself, “I wonder if my device is accurate?” or “Should I be using a step tracking device or just my phone?” In the interest of helping people make sense of their data so that they can come to their own conclusions I decided to do a quick analysis of my own personal data.

For this analysis I examined the step data derived from my Fibit One and the Moves app I have installed on my iPhone 5. (Important note: the iPhone 5 does not have the M7 or M8 chip present on the 5s and 6/6+, respectively, which natively tracks steps.) I had a sneaking suspicion that my data experience differed from the findings of Case and her colleagues. Specifically, I had a hypothesis that the data from every day tracking via the Moves app would be significantly different than data from my Fitbit One.

Methods

First, I downloaded and exported my daily aggregate Fitbit data for 2014 using our Google Spreadsheets Fitbit script. I then exported my complete Moves app data via their online web portal. To create a daily aggregate step value from my Moves data I collapsed all activities in the summary_2014.csv file for each day. (Side note: We’ll be publishing a series of how-to’s for doing simple data transformations like this soon). This allowed me to create a file with daily aggregate step data from both Moves and my Fitbit for each day of 2014. Unfortunately I did not have my Fitbit for the first few weeks of 2014 so the data represents steps counts for 342 days (1/24/14 to 12/31/14).

Results

I found that my Fitbit One consistently reports a higher number of total steps per day than my Moves app. Overall, for the 342 days I had 689,192 more steps reported by Fitbit than by the Moves app. The descriptive information is included in the table below:

FitbitMoves2

Another way to look at this is by visualizing both data sets across the full time-frame:

Click for interactive version in Google docs.

Click for interactive version in Google docs.

There a few interesting things to point out in this dataset. On two days I have 0 steps reported from my Moves app. One day, Moves was unable to connect with their online service due to me being in an area with little to no cell signal. On the other day my phone was off, probably due to an iOS 8 release and having to reboot my phone a few times.

It is also clear to me that differences in data are related to how I wear my Fitbit and use my phone. For my Fitbit, it is basically on my hip from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed each night. However, my phone isn’t always “on my body” throughout the day. I think this is probably the case for more people.

Since I wear my Fitbit at all times some of the data it captures erroneously is included in the total step count. For instance, for the last few months in this data set I was commuting about 10 miles per day during the week by bike. This data is accurately captured as cycling by Moves, but captured as steps by my Fitbit. Therefore some over-reporting by Fitbit is present in the data.

Conclusion

For my own data I found that the Fitbit reports higher steps on most, if not all days, than the Moves app on my iPhone 5. There are a few caveats with this data and analysis that are worth mentioning. First, this exploration was intended to begin a conversation around the real-world use of activity monitoring apps and devices, and the data they collect. It was not intended as a statement on truth or validity (however I would welcome the help of a volunteer to follow me around with a manual clicker counting all my steps). Second, this analysis was undertaken in part to help you understand that scientists of all types, be it citizen or academic, have the ability to work with their own data in order to come to their own conclusions about what works or doesn’t work for them. Lastly, this analysis was completed very quickly and I am sure that other individuals may have different ideas about how to explore and analyze the data. For this reason I’m posting the daily aggregate values in a open Google Spreadsheet here.

If you’re inspired to analyze your own data in this way we’d love to hear from you. Reach out on twitter or send us an email. We’re listening.

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Eric Jain on Sleep and Moon Phases

Eric Jain stumbled upon a study published in 2013 that found the a full moon was associated with less sleep. Being an avid self-tracker and a toolmaker he decided to find out if that was true for him as well. Eric used his tool, Zenobase, to import, aggregate, filter, and then analyze his sleep data in a few unique ways. While he found some evidence that a full moon was associated with less total sleep he wasn’t able to make any statistically significant results. Watch his short video below, filmed at the Seattle QS meetup group, then take a look at his great screencast where he walks through all his steps to complete this analysis.

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Fuelband vs Fitbit: Do They Agree on Steps?

We are not the only ones curious about whether our activity level looks different when seen with different trackers. Bastian Greshake, co-founder of OpenSNP.org, has been comparing his FuelBand and his Fitbit for months. Here’s what he found.

bastian greshakeInspired by Ernesto’s post I wanted to take a look at how my data for the Fitbit and the FuelBand compare to each other. I started wearing the FuelBand in October of last year. Since then it has only left my wrist to recharge the battery. I was already carrying a Fitbit Ultra, which I’ve had since May 2012. I wear the FuelBand on my dominant arm. The Fitbit is usually clipped to the pocket of my jeans and I have it on my non-dominant arm while sleeping. From my day-to-day experience I have a sense that FuelBand steps are  usually a good way below the Fitbit steps. But I also thought that the difference was getting smaller, probably due to firmware updates on the FuelBand.

Using the Fitbit-API (and it’s integration into openSNP) it’s quite easy to get a file that contains all step counts measured with the Ultra. If you have an openSNP account you can download the complete file, also including sleep data and body measurements here. Unfortunately the Nike+ API  isn’t ready yet, so one needs to manually scrape the data. As this is boring work that can’t easily be automated I only got FuelBand step data back to 2013/11/16. Still, that should be enough to get a first insight on how both devices compare.

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Ian Clements on Analyzing his Cancer Data

Ian Clements has been self-tracking since 1974 – mostly exercise, weight, and general health indicators. But in 2007 he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This set off a more comprehensive mission of self-tracking to figure out which lifestyle changes and supplements were helping him to live longer. In the video below, Ian walks through his fascinating and detailed journey in data analysis land and shares the lessons he has learned. (Filmed by the London QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Data Analysis from Ken Snyder on Vimeo.

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Numbers From Around the Web: Round 9

Some people may be wondering how I find all the amazing people conducting neat self-tracking experiments and creating jaw-dropping personal data visualizations. Well, for the most part I just listen. I’m constantly paying attention to what’s being said on twitter about #QuantifiedSelf. When that doesn’t work I just use the power of Google to find people who are blogging about self-tracking, self-experimentation, or personal data. It’s great to look through the search results and see how many people are sharing their personal stories and insights. While doing some searching this morning I stumbled across a project that immediately brought a smile to my face. Hopefully you’re excited by this as much as I am.

Chris Volinsky is a statistician at AT&T Research and he’s no stranger to handling large data problems. Back in 2008 he was part of the team that won the $1 Million Netflix prize. He also has quite the impressive list of research papers that illustrate the many different uses of cellphone location data. But what is really interesting about Chris is his newest project: My Year of Data

Back in November of 2011 Chris started off a blog entry that with this:

My name is Chris. I am 40 years old. I am 5’9 1/2″ and weigh 174 pounds. I walked 9,048 steps and have consumed 1,406 calories today (so far).

Realizing that he’ld been gaining weight and wasn’t at his optimal health he decided to take a data-centric approach to improving his health. He is a statistician after all. So far, he’s found some interesting things. Take for instance his weight and dietary tracking.

As he explains in this post, Chris typically has a hard time tracking his diet consistently. This can be pretty frustrating when you hear about how important it is to eat this or not eat that to help with weight reduction. Rather than get frustrated Chris turned to the data to see what he could learn. When he stopped looking at the data he was entering and started looking at the missing data an interesting trend lept out. He found that fluctuations in his weight appeared to be correlated with whether or not he was logging food. Take for instance the plot below. It appears that there is a pretty clear association with periods of weight loss and periods of actively logging his food (pink zones). The opposite also appears to be true – no food logging = weight gain.

Weight chart with food tracking highlighted in pink

So this is where a typical NFATW post would stop. We have an interesting finding and a neat data visualization. But, Chris is doing something much more interesting than just talking about his weight data. He is on a long-term self-tracking and self-discovery journey and he is trying to enlist other interested parties to help him. Chris is going the extra step and posting all of his self-tracking data online for anyone to analyze, visualize, or just get inspired.

You can access all of his amazing data via a public dropbox folder that he’s set up. He even has a nice README file explaining the datasets and formats. So far he’s sharing the following:

  • Fitbit: sleep and activity data
  • FitLinxx: weight training data from gym activities
  • Livestrong: dietary tracking data
  • Runkeeper: running and other exercise activity data
  • RescueTime: productivity tracking (computer/internet use)

All the data is open and available for you to play with. This should be a really interesting project to keep “track” of in the future (pun definitely intended). To help inspire some action on your part I took some time today and looked at Chris’s most recent available data to see what I could find out. I downloaded his Fitbit data and decided to look for any interesting patterns. Turns out that when taking a look at his daily patterns of activity there seems to be something going on on Thursdays that reduces his step count and activity time . Also, Saturday is by far the best day with an average of 9,862.56 steps and a 5.3 hours spent being active (data available here).

Mean steps per day

Mean activity minutes per day

Make sure to reach out to Chris over at his blog and take a took at his data to see what interesting thing you can figure out!

Every few weeks be on the lookout for new posts profiling interesting individuals and their data. If you have an interesting story or link to share leave a comment or contact the author here.

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FitBit + Google Spreadsheets = Awesome

This post and instructions are no longer up to date. For a current how-to please visit the updated post

On February 11th FitBit released their API into the wild and let developers get to work. Since then there have been some very neat integrations. One of the best uses of the API it the open source script that enables users to download their data into google spreadsheets. Developed by John McLaughlin, this script gives everyone the ability to get their historical data from FitBit and play with visualizations and analytics. Even someone without any programming experience can start creating very neat dynamic charts and graphs in under 30 minutes. For example I created the the following charts in just a few minutes (click images for interactive versions):

Daily Step Count:

If you already have a FitBit you might be wondering how to actually implement John’s script to grab your own data and start making fun charts and graphs. It takes about 15 minutes from start to finish to set up your FitBit developer account and then set up the script in Google Docs. The step-by-step process is outlined after the jump.

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