Put your Fitbit through the washing machine again? Here’s an app that could replace it

I got a Fitbit (see disclosure) last November when it started to seem like all of my friends and co-workers were sporting tracking devices to measure their movement and exercise. I’ve grown to adore the little black device, taking a few more laps around the block on my way home to hit 10,000 steps per day, and running back inside the house if I forget to clip it to my pocket before leaving for work in the morning. I love checking the charts and graphs on the iPhone app that show my fitness progress over time. It’s fair to say I’d be bummed if I lost the device.

moves screenshot

So what if you do lose your tracking device and don’t want to buy another one? Or maybe you’re unwilling to spend more than $100 on one in the first place, about the average price for a Fitbit or Jawbone Up? I’ve been trying out Moves, a free iPhone app released earlier this year, and have been impressed by how well the app tracks my movement throughout the day. So far, it would be a decent replacement for my Fitbit if I ever lost one, and with a pricetag of $0, it’s a pretty great deal if you’re not sure whether you want to track your steps or not.

The idea behind Moves is that most of us are carrying smartphones around during the day anyway, and the accelerometer inside the phone mimics a lot of the technology inside  popular tracking devices. So CEO Sampo Karjalainen set out to create a mobile app that would approximate the experience with devices many of us already own, but at a much more affordable price, hoping the app would appeal to more casual exercisers.

“The whole idea was just to make it really effortless,” he said, noting that for a lot of people, devices like the Fitbit just aren’t as appealing. “They have this active sports image which doesn’t really fit with a lot to people, who might not see themselves as active sports people.”

The app shows you steps you’ve moved every day, minutes spent active, as well as locations you’ve been to if you enable the tracking features. Karjalainen said the app, which got $1.6 million in venture backing from Lifeline Ventures and PROfounders Capital, has been downloaded 1.5 million times since the launch, although he wouldn’t say how many of those users are actively using Moves. The company is working on building an Android version and an API.

It took some time for me to adjust to the Moves app and the simplicity of the screen compared to Fitbit — you can’t enter your weight or food intake, and it doesn’t provide you with stats on calories burned or let you adjust for your height and weight. And apps dedicated to running like Nike+ or Runkeeper might still be better answers for serious runners. However, the steps and distance tracking on Moves provided nearly identical data to my Fitbit, so if you’re just looking to hit 10,000 steps every day and stay active, it’s a great solution. And it did track my runs pretty accurately as well.

The only caveat is that you have to carry your phone with you everywhere for it to work. But chances are, if you’re the kind of person who’s interested in GPS fitness tracking, carrying your phone around probably won’t be an issue for you.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.