Tracking park visits with lots of walking

I struggle sometimes with figuring out the best way to track activities to locations where I might walk a lot. Things like walking through a park or walking around in a zoo. I want these to show up as a location, but might walk for hours and miles. Location means stationary and not walking.

I have tried using the parking lot or entrance as the stationary location then do my best to extract walking from the visit, but it can be tough to do this when I walk near the starting location. I usually botch something up with the path categorization and give up.

Are there any strategies others have employed? Any possible feature tweaks which could make cases like this easier to categorize?

I consider this one a bit of an unsolved problem at the moment. There’s also the related but slightly different case of walking inside a large mall or airport. But the outdoor park/zoo setting is the worst, in that to us it’s conceptually “at one place”, but to the data it’s definitely not.

The indoor mall/airport one used to be solved automatically for us, by way of indoor location data being much lower accuracy, so it ended up getting all lumped together on account of the data not providing enough accuracy or detail for the processing engine to piece apart. But iPhone hardware and software has come a long way, and now indoor location data accuracy can be quite good, so the indoor data in large buildings ends up being not too dissimilar from outdoor data.

For parks and zoos, because it really is a pure case of our conceptions of “this is a single place” not matching with the physical reality of the data (ie we’re constantly walking around a large area, with near perfect location data accuracy), I think it has to come down to just deciding how we want to categorise it ourselves, within the limits the processing engine will allow.

For me that typically means I’ll go with one of two strategies: Either a single massive Place, and assign that same Place to each of the various stops (eg “CentralWorld Mall”), or use separate Places for the various locations within (eg “Boots Pharmacy”, “Starbucks”, “Nike Shop”, etc inside the mall).

There’s unfortunately no way to merge the various walks and stops into a single visit though, which is why I consider it an unsolved problem. If you genuinely do want it to show up a single multi hour Visit to “CentralWorld Mall” or whatever, with the way the processing engine currently works, you can’t do it. It’s not going to let you merge those extended walks and brief stops into a single Visit.

Well… ok, you can make it happen. But hoo boy is it a struggle. You can start by categorising all the walking as stationary, so that you can assign it all to a single massive Visit. Then go into the Individual Segments view and use segment splitting to split back out the walking portions, without extracting them out into separate timeline items. (The Split Segment action doesn’t extract the parts out into new timeline items, unlike what happens when you change the type of a whole segment from the Individual Segments view. So you can use segment splitting to rework the shape of things inside a single Visit).

I occasionally do it that way when I’m being especially pedantic and really don’t want “Hotel Reception”, “Hotel Restaurant”, and “Hotel Room” as separate Visits and want it all combined together in a single Visit, but with the walking segments between preserved inside that single Visit. But it’s such an awkward hassle that most times I don’t bother.

I’ve got various ideas for how to “solve” this problem eventually. The main one being to change the way Visits are modelled, so that they can have multiple centres of gravity instead of just one. That way a Visit would internally / under the hood look more like a solar system than a solo gravity entity. But… it’s added complexity for an edge case (albeit an edge case that’s commonly annoying), so I haven’t pushed it up the priorities. More of a pet project, “someday I really want to do this better”, kind of thing.


One possible solution that came to mind, but never quite executed on is recording these walking visits as a workout on my Apple Watch. That would allow the entire walk to be imported as such afterwards. With that I could grab points just outside of the walk as the place I visited. This of course would drain my watch battery more than I would like which is why I haven’t tried.

Along the same line of thinking, have you considered using focus states as an assist in categorizing? In instances like this, if the iPhone was in some pre determined walking focus state Arc would know all recordings should be categorized as such. I’m using focus states in conjunction with the Chronicling app to mark when I go on a dog walk amongst other HomeKit related actions.

I actually do this! All walking that’s going to be more than a couple of minutes long, I record as a workout on my watch. That way I also have fallback data for if both Arc and Mini got terminated (ie worse case scenario), so that I can still fill in that gap.

Curiously, it doesn’t drain the battery as much as you’d think. Although if it is a pretty full day of workouts, like a full day of hiking or some such, then it will hurt. In those cases I tend to switch the watch to Low Power Mode, and that gets it through.

You can now also edit imported workout data in Arc. That’s not something I think I mentioned in the release notes when the GPX importing shipped, but it’s a [slightly hidden] side effect of it. You can tap the ellipsis menu to go to Individual Segments view, or Extract Brief Visits, on the imported workout item, and that lets you edit it and split it up as you wish.

I did look into it at one stage, along with the other potential usage data that might be exposed. But I think it was a mixture of Apple either not providing enough useful data, or making it too inaccessible to be useful. I’d like to have another look at some stage though. Make the best of all available data sources, etc.

What do you want to achieve with this? If you want to search for this visit at a later date, a possible workaround would be to use notes/trip notes such as “Me at the zoo”.

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Seconding using notes!

I make a lot of use of notes on visits, purely for the purpose of searching later. Like “Saw Dune 2 with Poom” for a cinema visit, so I can search “Dune 2” or “Poom” later.