iOS8 Day-by-Day :: Day 35 :: CoreMotion

Written by Sam Davies

Updated 9 Apr 2015: This post has been updated to Swift 1.2

This post is part of a daily series of posts introducing the most exciting new parts of iOS8 for developers – #iOS8DayByDay. To see the posts you’ve missed check out the index page, but have a read through the rest of this post first!

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The CoreMotion framework is used in iOS to receive data from the plethora of motion sensors available on a device. This includes the magnetometer, the pedometer and the gyroscope. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus include an altimeter, so CoreMotion has been updated to support this new sensor. iOS8 also sees some other changes to the framework.

In today’s blog post you’ll see what replaces CMStepCounter due to its deprecation, and the new type of activity classification available. There is an accompanying app called LocoMotion that demonstrates both how to present live motion data, and how to query for historical data. You can grab the source code from the ShinobiControls github at

Motion Activity Data

At the highest level, CoreMotion offers estimates of “activity” data – i.e. an estimate of what the user is actually doing. This is the result of a classification algorithm which takes all the motion sensors (along with other data) into account. In iOS7, the activities could be classified into running, walking, automotive and stationary. iOS8 adds a new classification in the form of cycling.

Getting hold of motion activity data can take place in two different ways – dependent on your use case. You can either request up to 7 days worth of historical data, or you can ask for a live stream of updates, as the device recognizes changes in the activity state.

CMMotionActivityManager is the class that is responsible for motion activities, and a historical ‘pull’ query uses the queryActivityStartingFromDate(_, toDate:, toQueue:, withHandler:). Notice that you have to provide a queue upon which your results will be delivered – this is great for maintaining a responsive app, and is just an instance of NSOperationQueue:

let oneWeekInterval = 24 * 3600 as NSTimeInterval
motionActivityManager.queryActivityStartingFromDate(NSDate(timeIntervalSinceNow: -oneWeekInterval),
                                                    toDate: NSDate(), toQueue: motionHandlerQueue) {
  (activities, error) in
  if error != nil {
    println("There was an error retrieving the motion results: \(error)")
  self.activityCollection = ActivityCollection(activities: activities as! [CMMotionActivity])

The handler is called with an array of CMMotionActivity objects and an error. If the user hasn’t authorized use of the motion sensors then you can inspect the error and see that it has a type of CMErrorMotionActivityNotAuthorized.

A CMMotionActivity object has some Bool properties, which determine which kind of activity was detected. These comprise stationary, walking, running, automotive, cycling and unknown. There are various rules which specify when each of these can occur (e.g. unknown will only be true when the device has just been turned on) and most of them were present in iOS7. iOS8 adds the cycling state. The activity also has a startDate and a confidence.

The first time you run an app, CoreMotion will present the user with an alert asking whether they are happy to share their motion data:

Request Permission

LocoMotion pulls the last 24 hours of activity data out, and displays in in a table:

Historical Data

Getting live activity data from CMMotionActivityManager uses the startActivityUpdatesToQueue(_, withHandler:) method. Again this requires an NSOperationQueue to determine which queue the results should be delivered on, and a handler, which has a single CMMotionActivity argument.

The following method updates an image view with an appropriate logo given the current activity type:

activityManager.startActivityUpdatesToQueue(dataProcessingQueue) {
  data in
  dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue()) {
    if data.running {
      self.activityImageView.image = UIImage(named: "run")
    } else if data.cycling {
      self.activityImageView.image = UIImage(named: "cycle")
    } else if data.walking {
      self.activityImageView.image = UIImage(named: "walk")
    } else {
      self.activityImageView.image = nil

Note that unless you request that results are delivered on the main queue, then you’ll need to marshal any UI updates over to the main queue.

You use the stopActivityUpdates() method to cancel the delivery of updates.

To determine whether the current device supports motion activities, you can use the isActivityAvailable()

Pedometer Data

iOS7 introduced the ability to quantify the walking behavior of the user via the CMStepCounter class. Well, that lasted all of a year – iOS8 deprecates it in place of the much more generically named CMPedometer. This new class adds functionality for measuring distance and floors climbed, where available.

The class methods isStepCountingAvailable(), isDistanceAvailable() and isFloorCountingAvailable() provide info on what capabilities are available on the current device.

Again, you can request both live data, and historical data. Historical data is provided through the queryPedometerDataFromDate(_, toDate:, withHandler:) and live data via startPedometerUpdatesFromDate(_, withHandler:) and stopPedometerUpdates().

Both of these handlers have two parameters: an NSError and a CMPedometerData object which contains properties for numberOfSteps, distance, floorsAscended and floorsDescended. The following code queries for pedometer data between two dates:

pedometer?.queryPedometerDataFromDate(activity?.startDate, toDate: activity?.endDate) {
  (data, error) -> Void in
  if error != nil {
    println("There was an error requesting data from the pedometer: \(error)")
  } else {
    dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue()) {
      self.pedometerLabel.text = self.constructPedometerString(data)

This renders the appropriate data for the running and walking activities in the historical table view:

Historical Data

Since ‘step count’ is a cumulative property, requesting live data also requires you provide a start date. Then, each call to your handler closure will give you the current cumulative total from the start date you provided:

pedometer.startPedometerUpdatesFromDate(NSDate()) {
  (data, error) in
  if error != nil {
    println("There was an error obtaining pedometer data: \(error)")
  } else {
    dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue()) {
      self.floorsLabel.text = "\(data.floorsAscended)"
      self.stepsLabel.text = "\(data.numberOfSteps)"
      self.distanceLabel.text = "\(self.lengthFormatter.stringFromMeters(data.distance as! Double))"

Note that again, you should marshal any UI updates to the main queue, even though (somewhat inconsistently) you don’t provide the pedometer with a queue that you’d like your results delivered on.

Live Walk

Altimeter Data

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus added a barometer, allowing you to measure the air pressure, and therefore infer the relative change in altitude over small periods of time. It doesn’t make sense to present historical relative altitude, and therefore you can only access data from this sensor on a live basis. The API is, however, very similar to that of the previous APIs you’ve seen in this article.

CMAltimeter has a class method isRelativeAltitudeAvailable() that will tell you whether or not the current device supports relative altitude measurements. Provided it is, you can then use startRelativeAltitudeUpdatesToQueue(_, withHandler:) and stopRelativeAltitudeUpdates() to receive the updates.

The handler is called with two parameters – a CMAltitudeData and NSError. CMAltitudeData has a pressure property that represents the current pressure (measured in kilopascals) and a relativeAltitude property. This relativeAltitude property represents the change in altitude since the previous measurement.

The following implements this functionality:

altimeter.startRelativeAltitudeUpdatesToQueue(dataProcessingQueue) {
  (data, error) in
  if error != nil {
    println("There was an error obtaining altimeter data: \(error)")
  } else {
    dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue()) {
      self.altChange += data.relativeAltitude as! Double
      self.altitudeLabel.text = "\(self.lengthFormatter.stringFromMeters(self.altChange as! Double))"

This ensures that the displayed altitude delta represents the change since the beginning of the session.

Running Walking


These new additions to CoreMotion are primarily there to wrap the new functionality provided by the improvements to hardware. They do offer some interesting possibilities around data driven apps, and represent the versatility of the motion co-processor chips that Apple has created.

I have a few issues with the API – although all these classes are performing very similar operations, some of the methods allow you to provide a queue, whilst others don’t. Maybe somebody could tell me why this is.

Today’s app (Locomotion) demos both the live and historical data functionality, and is available on github at




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