How Apple Watch Tracks Runs Without GPS

how apple watch tracks runs without gps

The Apple Watch was announced yesterday to a divided audience. I personally did not like it; it sounded like a student sugarcoating their useless semester project. Anyhow, for those of you who did like it, particularly for its health & fitness features, you do likely want to know how Apple Watch tracks runs without GPS module, without being connected to the iPhone.

how apple watch tracks runs without gps

We have discussed this in some fashion before in the form of a rumor regarding an Apple Watch GPS headphones patent. We were expecting Apple to put a GPS module in the headphones that could come with the Apple, which would theoretically allow the Apple Watch to make use of the greater accuracy of GPS for tracking runs, giving directions, etc. without the heavy toll on an already short battery life of 18 hours of “mixed activities”, as claimed by Apple.

So, now that we know that the Apple Watch does not come with a GPS, and there are no headphones with a GPS module either… how does the Apple Watch exactly track your runs when you don’t have an iPhone attached?

How Apple Watch Tracks Runs Without GPS

It depends on what you mean by ‘tracking runs’. If by tracking runs, you mean tracking your exact path, the Apple Watch doesn’t do that on its own. However, if tracking runs is counting steps, and total distance (kilometers or miles) run, then the Apple Watch has an interesting way of tracking them.

According to Farhad Manjoo on Twitter:

Here’s how the Apple watch tracks your running if you don’t have your phone with you. As I understand it:

First, in early use, it calibrates your steps with distance using GPS on your phone. After a while (not sure how long) it gets a good estimate of your gait distance. Then it can track your running distance without a phone.

There you go!

Personally, I am not interested in where I run, but how much I run, and how many steps I’ve taken during the day. Apple Watch tracks those without GPS, so I’m fine with this!

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Passionate writer at Cupertino Times, casual photographer, gamer, sharer of amusing links and an amalgam of all things geeky. Catch me on Google+


  1. You are obviously not a runner. When you run, your cadence changes, and your stride distance changes. It is a very rough estimate if you run outdoors. Not even close to actual running. Of course, if you are only interested in number of steps, this might work. But please, don’t call this “track your runs”. It is NOT. Oh, by the way, you can get a pedometer, a very good one, which tracks your steps, on amazon for about $15.

  2. GPS is must… posting in different cities and around the world as a runner is super cool… not to disrespect you… yoou sound like a rookie in running.

    1. No disrespect taken. I’ll pass your comments on to the writer. He just felt that the GPS was not something he personally cares much about when running.