How To Improve Your Apple Watch’s GPS

Using Apple Watch GPS

As a long-time Garmin user, we decided to test out the Apple Watch, purchasing a Series 9 model before it was temporarily removed from online stores and retail shelves.

Upon wearing the Apple Watch, we started to utilized Apple's built-in workout app to track our running. Although we didn't pay much attention to the watch's feedback during our routine 5k loop, we were pleasantly surprised by the pace and distance recorded post-run. Upon comparing this data to our old run data on the same route using the Garmin watch, which typically showed an average of 3.3 to 3.5 miles, we were shocked to find that the Apple Watch reported 4.23 miles (6.8 km) for the same route, prompting us to delve deeper into this issue.

To investigate this further, we tested another run tracking app, MapMyRun, known for supporting Apple Watch tracking without requiring being tethered to your iPhone during your run. Interestingly after our run, MapMyRun showed a distance of 3.4 miles (5.4 km) on the same exact route.

It became evident to us that there might be a software issue affecting Apple's GPS accuracy rather than a hardware problem, as using the same hardware with different software yielded varying results. While more testing is necessary to reach a final conclusion, these initial findings are noteworthy.

Researching how to calibrate the Apple Watch's GPS led to finding helpful support documentation from Apple (available here). The documentation suggests taking a 20-minute walk at a normal pace without the phone and assures that the GPS accuracy improves over time with continued use of their workout app.

Recommendation: Do not use Apple’s built in native GPS tracking app (Workout) for your fitness tracking activities.

Here are a couple of Apple Watch apps that support GPS tracking:

  • Couch to 5k
  • MapMyRun
  • Strava
  • Asics Runkeeper



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