How do I set device priority for calculating steps and other activity on iPhone and Apple Watch?

How you set device priority for calculating steps and other activity on iPhone and Apple Watch

If you use an iPhone, Apple Watch, other connected fitness devices, or third-party apps with the Apple Health app to keep track of your step count and activity, you may want to choose which device registers your steps.

For folks that bring their iPhone, Apple Watch, and any other fitness devices with them when walking and exercising, all devices record your steps and activity. Apple’s Health app then collects that data and decides which device’s data has the priority.

I personally love that I can seamlessly add data from my third-party apps (like Strava and Garmin Connect) and other fitness devices to my iPhone’s Health. Hence, all my activity and health information is in one place. But sometimes, conflicts between these apps and devices happen.

If you see inconsistencies in your step count or activity data, try these solutions to update which devices and apps track your steps and other activity:

  • Prioritize which device counts your steps and activity.
  • Set a device or app to inactive.
  • Disable the step count and activity from your iPhone or third-party apps, so only the Apple Watch tracks your steps. 
  • Remove an app from writing data to the Health app.

Related reading

How your iPhone and Apple’s Health app collects and uses data from multiple sources how to remove health and fitness data from iPhone and Apple Watch using the Health app

The Health app takes similar data from different sources, like steps recorded from your iPhone and activity from your Apple Watch, and organizes it based on where it comes from. 

Apple Health “intelligently syncs” all your step data (and other activity data) to ensure it counts all your steps (activity) and that steps (activity) are not double-counted. 

One problem with this is that the total steps you see displayed in Apple Health are ALL of the steps recorded by your phone, other fitness apps and devices, and your Apple Watch after syncing. 

Consequently, you might see that your daily step data shows different amounts for your iPhone compared to your Apple Watch. 

Although the Health app chooses which source to use based on the device priority list, so activity isn’t double-counted, this total can occasionally interfere with some older apps that draw the step count directly from the Apple Health app. 

At this time, your iPhone’s Health prioritizes data in this order:

  1. Health data that you enter manually.
  2. Data from your iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple Watch. 
  3. Data from apps and other connected Bluetooth fitness devices.

So why are my step count and activity data on my iPhone’s Health and Fitness apps different than my Apple Watch?

If you use other fitness trackers or third-party apps with your iPhone and connect those to the Apple Health app, that could be the reason your Apple Watch shows a different step count than your iPhone.

If you don’t use another fitness tracker or app and your iPhone’s Fitness app and Apple Health app show more steps than your Apple Watch, check if you also have Fitness Tracking turned on your iPhone.

When you turn on Fitness Tracking on your iPhone, it collects fitness information such as steps, stairs climbed, and other mobility data using your iPhone’s sensors.

Since Apple Health collects fitness data from multiple sources, including your Apple Watch, iPhone, and other fitness devices and apps, it aggregates all this data together to give you a total step count.

Fix #1: Prioritize the device that records your steps and activity data in the Apple Health app

  1. Open the Health app > Browse tab. Browse tab in Apple Health app for iPhone
  2. Tap Activity. Activity in Apple Health app
  3. Select Steps or another subcategory under Activity. Step number in Apple Health app for activity
  4. Scroll down to Options and tap Data Sources & Access. Data Sources and Access in Apple Health app for Step count
  5. Tap Edit. Apple Health edit data sources and access for steps
  6. Scroll down to the section Data Sources. 
    1. This list of devices and apps shows what registers data in the Health app for that specific activity. The list’s order is the priority of which devices and apps record your steps or activity, i.e., the data source at the top takes priority over the sources below it.
    2. If you see the same device listed multiple times, i.e., your iPhone or Apple Watch, it should hold a different data set and is likely listed more than once due to unpairing and re-pairing the same device or upgrading to a new model but keeping the same name. Apple Health change device and app priority in data source and access list
  7. Press and hold the Change Order button (three horizontal lines icon) next to a data source, then drag it up or down in the list. 
  8. Tap Done when you finish re-ordering your apps and devices.
  9. Repeat for any other activity subcategory where you want to change device priority.

Fix #2: View your iPhone’s Health app’s data sources and deactivate a source

It’s good to dive in and check out exactly what devices and apps your Health app reads and collects from.

Review your Health app’s connected devices and apps to see and change its data sources 

  1. Open the Health app > Browse.
  2. Tap Activity.
  3. Choose a subcategory, like Steps.
  4. Scroll down and tap Data Sources & Access.
    1. Scroll down to Data Sources and look at where the Health app pulls data from.
    2. If you see an app or device on the list that you don’t want Health to gather its data, Edit at the top and uncheck that app or device to mark it as inactive.
    3. Inactive devices and apps can no longer update your step or activity data. Set a data source to inactive in the Apple Health app
  5. Tap Done.

Fix #3: Stop your iPhone from tracking steps and other motion activity

Apple designed the Health app to not double count activity when it gets data from more than one device or app for the exact date and time interval.

However, if you see inconsistencies or if you only want to use your Apple Watch to track your steps, you can disable Fitness Tracking on your iPhone entirely or for selected apps.

  1. Go to your iPhone’s Settings > Privacy > Motion & Fitness.
  2. Look under Fitness Tracking. Turn off fitness tracking for apps or entirely on iPhone
  3. Toggle off entirely or disable any apps you DO NOT want to add to your step count.
    1. If you don’t have any other apps that use Motion & Fitness data, Health is the only app on the list.
    2. Turning off the Health setting prevents Apple’s Health app from accessing your movement sensor data. However, this also disables Walking Steadiness and other features. 
  4. Finally, confirm Fitness Tracking is on for your Apple Watch. Check either in your iPhone’s Watch app or on your Apple Watch: Apple Watch motion and fitness tracking privacy settings
    1. Watch app: Privacy > Fitness Tracking
    2. Watch: Settings > Privacy > Motion & Fitness.

Fix #4: Remove an app from writing data to the Health app

  1. Open the Health app and tap your profile picture or icon.
  2. Scroll down to Privacy.
  3. Choose Apps. app privacy settings for Apple Health
  4. Review the list of apps that the Health app currently connects to. list of apps that connect to Apple Health app
  5. Tap each app to see which categories of data the Health app collects.
  6. If you don’t want the Health app to read or write data to that app, toggle any category off or choose to Turn Off All. allow or disallow an app from accessing and reading or writing to Apple Health data
  7. Make sure you review the sections Allow to write and Allow to read.
    1. Write data allows the app to send its data to the Health app.
    2. Read data allows the app to read (but not change) data from the Health app.

How to delete data from the Health app

If you want to delete data from a device or app that you think is clouding your step count and other activity information, check out this article: How to erase health data from Apple Watch and paired iPhone.

Final thoughts

If you have any more questions or anything else to add, please feel free to let us know about it by sharing your comments in the comments section below! 

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I have a first-class honors Physiotherapy degree and a second class honors Sports Science degree. I am also a certified Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist. Before completing my University education in the United Kingdom, I worked as a fitness instructor and athletics coach for many years. Since 2008 I have been practicing in the UK as a Chartered Physiotherapist, and traveling to European and World Cup tournaments with the Wales Masters field hockey team as their physiotherapist. I am passionate and actively involved in health and fitness and in the process of research and writing. I believe everyone should have access to the latest health and wellness research in simple, easy to understand language. In 2009 I published a research article ‘Is Yoga An Effective Treatment for Low Back Pain’ in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Currently, I am a freelance writer producing content relating to physiotherapy and health and wellness. I love anything animal! I have three rescued dogs and two parrots. I placed third lady in my city’s annual marathon (dressed as a bunny!) to raise funds for an animal welfare charity.

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