Activity trackers certainly have their place, but if you're just looking to track your steps throughout the day, there's really no reason to spend $100+ on a fancy Fitbit when you carry your iPhone around 24/7. Plenty of iOS apps can give you the same data (steps, stairs, miles, calories burned, etc.) as an activity tracker, thanks to your iPhone's sophisticated internal sensors.
In fact, if you'd like to get your step-tracking game on right this second, you don't even have to download anything -- your iPhone comes with a built-in pedometer app! If you have an iPhone 5S or newer, the Health app has been tracking your steps in the background all this time (whether you like it or not). The Health app uses both the data from your phone's built-in motion processor and any data imported from external tracking devices (such as an Apple Watch or a Fitbit) to keep a log of your step count.
To see this data, open the Health app and go to the Health Data tab. Tap Fitness and then tap Steps, and then turn on the toggle next to Show on Dashboard. Now, when you go to the Dashboard tab, you'll see your step count stats along with any other modules you've configured to appear on the Dashboard. (For more info on how to set up the Health app, check out our guide.)
The Health app does track steps, but its features are otherwise limited -- it won't, for example, tell you how many calories burned your steps translate to, nor will it nudge you to move more when you've been sitting at your computer all day. For a more activity tracker-like experience, you'll need a third-party app. Here are some of our favorites.
Just the basics: Stepz
Stepz is a free pedometer app that tracks all the basics: step count, calories burned, distance, floors climbed, and "active" time. The app also plugs into the Health app to keep a running log of your step-count history, so you can see some fun stats like your overall step and distance totals.
Like most pedometers and pedometer apps, the default step goal is set at 10,000 steps, but you can adjust this based on your lifestyle or you can allow the app to set an "automatic" goal for you based on your step history (the app will give you an achievable, slightly challenging goal based on your weekly averages).
Stepz' niftiest feature is its step-count badge: If you allow the app to show badge notifications, the app icon will show a badge with your current daily step count. It's a little thing, but it's super convenient if you want to see how far along you are at a glance.
The prettiest interface: Walker
Walker, Pedometer M7/M8/M9 (originally called Walker M7) is another free pedometer app that tracks steps, calories burned, and distance (but not stairs or floors climbed). It also tracks running workouts and lets you manually track data points such as weight, body-fat percentage and blood pressure -- so it's more of a comprehensive health-tracking app than just a pedometer.
Walker has a beautiful interface and it displays your stats in a variety of interesting ways. For example, you can view your averages in custom date ranges (instead of just by day, week, month, year), and you can see a breakdown of your average step count by day of the week.
This app also has a GPS component that allows you to map your route as you run, though the developer warns that using this feature will dramatically decrease your phone's battery life.
Go social: Pacer
Most pedometer apps have a social component: You can add your friends via social networks and casually compete against each other on a leaderboard. But what if you have no friends (using a particular app)? Pacer, Pedometer plus Weight Loss and BMI Tracker is a free app with a more inclusive social component called Groups. Groups are teams of walkers who can encourage each other via group chat and compete with each other via leaderboards, and they're public.
Pacer tracks steps, calories, distance, stairs climbed, and active time, and it also has a GPS-based workout feature that lets you map your run/walk or bicycle path. For an extra $3.99, £2.99 or AU$5.99 per month, you can upgrade to the premium version of the app, which features a personalized "coach" who will help you plan out your fitness strategy (whatever that may be). The premium version of the app also offers additional data insights and the ability to join weight loss groups (instead of just walking groups).
Making step-counting fun: Wokamon
Face it: Step-tracking is kind of boring. If stats, achievements, and leaderboards don't get you pumped to hit a 10,000-step goal every day, maybe a cute virtual pet that feeds off your energy will. Wokamon: Monster Walk Quest, the Pedometer Fitness Game is a pedometer-slash-game that forces you to walk to play. In this app, your steps are energy -- and you need this energy to feed, grow, and clothe your Wokamons (and collect more Wokamons).
As a pedometer app, Wokamon is limited -- the main screen, where your Wokamon lives, only shows your steps, not calories burned, stairs climbed, or distance traveled. However, if you go into the activity section of the app, you will be able to see your calories burned and distance traveled. The app syncs with Apple Health and external devices (such as Fitbits and Jawbones), but you can also just play with your iPhone's motion sensors.