The Archive August 19, 2020

The Future Is Here, and It Looks Fabulously Fit

Health and Fitness Apps Geared to Women Put Optimal Health in the Hands of Anyone Who Seeks It

Getting fit has never fit better. Into our schedules, into our lives and even onto our bodies. Tools to help set and achieve fitness and wellness goals are becoming increasingly more available and affordable, and with so much help right at our fingertips, they’re becoming harder to ignore.

Google called 2014 “the year of health and fitness apps.”

Methods designed to help us achieve lean, attractive bodies and sterling health records have come a long way since the days of attending mandatory Weight Watchers meetings and rushing to the gym to secure a spot in Tae Bo class.

Shrinking Users, Growing Usage

In the last five years, since the first health-related app came to market, there’s been meteoric growth in a category that was nonexistent when Apple launched the first App Store in 2007.

Google called 2014 “the year of health and fitness apps,” but with the total app count exceeding 100,000 at the time of this writing, 2015 may very well be the year this app category tips the scale and redefines the whole fitness industry.

Data-crunching, algorithm-producing applications such as these were initially reserved for the provider side of the healthcare sector and sold to medical practitioners as a tool to help manage patient care and run their practices. But with the market currently tipping out at an estimated $2.8 trillion, opportunity for consumer application is so abundant that it’s practically floating down from the rafters of every gym and yoga studio.

Americans are hungry for self-improvement and self-management too. Look no further than the overflowing shelves of the self-help section of your local library or the sea of app options — Classes & Trainers, Food & Nutrition, Meditation & Mindfulness — on Apple’s App Store or any other app store you might shop from.

It just so happens that women are bigger app users than men, downloading 40 percent more apps and buying 17 percent more paid apps.

According to medical policy reporters MedPageToday, an estimated half billion people will be using a mobile health app by the close of 2015. An increasing number of those users will transmit their health information over a device or network.

For example, diet and glucose trackers that regulate blood glucose levels in diabetics (of which there are 25.8 million in the U.S.), such as Diabetes App, send data to your doctor’s office to keep them aware of fluctuation patterns. And persons with autoimmune health issues can track diet and symptoms with apps like GI Monitor to help their physician find links between diet, symptoms and treatments.

In another MedPageToday report, “Healthcare Trend-Spotting 2015,” which highlights what’s trending on the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute annual forecasting report, “do-it-yourself healthcare” is listed as the top health-industry issue for 2015.

Tight Abs and Low-Hanging Fruit

The statistics are hard to ignore. Women, especially young women, are actively using and seeking new apps to improve their health and fitness outlook. The rapid growth in health and fitness apps was not instantaneous, however. Late to the booming mobile app channel, this category didn’t really gain significant momentum until 2014.

So what’s contributing to this recent hypergrowth in health and fitness apps, when, in actuality, it was the health industry that was to receive the greatest impact from mobile?

Facebook is fertile ground for app companies attempting to engage and reengage users.

Facebook and other social media platforms are making it easier for app companies to secure customers and all their valuable demographic and psychographic data that’s been mined from previous user activity.

It just so happens that women are bigger app users than men, downloading 40 percent more apps and buying 17 percent more paid apps. Of all age groups of health and fitness app users, millennials use the apps two times as much. And narrowing it down further, women use this category of app 200 percent more than men do.

But in a largely male workforce, developers of apps have been slow to catch on to the needs of a growing female audience, including the originators of the mobile app marketplace, Apple.

Apple a Day or Bad Apple?

In a bit of a catch-22, Apple, who launched its own health app back in 2011, has decided against featuring tools specific to and critical to women’s health in its latest iOS 8.2 software update, which rolled out June 2014. With the recent boom in apps geared to women, this exclusion is seen by some in the industry as a glaring oversight.

Despite Apple’s promise to deliver a software update that is comprehensive and inclusive, and even with its exclusive partnership with Mayo Clinic (which would likely put robust resources at its disposal), many critics argue that Apple has failed to keep up with other apps.

Female critics, such as Arielle Duhaime-Ross at The Verge, have balked at the exclusion of a period tracker, which is widely used in other apps. In fact, it’s so popular a tool that three of the highest-ranking Android apps, according to the 2015 ARC360 app quality report, are apps designed specifically to track menstrual cycles.

Some hypothesize that it is who’s actually behind the design of the application, namely the developers, that dictates what functions and tools actually make it onto the app.

To Be or Not to Be

A recent article in the Atlantic noted that the smaller population of women in the tech industry, coupled with a primarily male perspective coming from those departments within the app companies, has resulted in apps that fail to serve the needs of the female end user.

Women are finding what they need and even exhibiting great resourcefulness in using apps in inventive new ways.

Even if the largely male tech industry is slow to embrace women’s health needs in its app offerings, women are finding what they need and even exhibiting great resourcefulness in using apps in inventive new ways to meet their needs.

One widely popular app, Glow, launched as a tool for women seeking fertility. What the company founders discovered soon after launching is that there were a vast majority of Glow app users who sought the opposite of fertility — they were actually trying to avoid becoming pregnant.

Gaining a Foothold Is No Easy Feat

Just like consumer-goods companies, apps rely on advertising to get the word out that they exist and will make be a benefit to your life. But unlike consumer-goods companies, traditional advertising channels aren’t likely to be found in the media plan.

So where does a mobile app designed to create a mobile body go to make its presence known? Mobile ads, of course!.

Never have good design and readability been more important than in the cramped real estate of a mobile device screen.

Mobile ads are an additional way to drive people to apps. When users click on one of these ads, they are sent to the App Store or Google Play to get the app, unless they already have it installed.

Social media, in general, is a huge part of the mix. Facebook is fertile ground for app companies attempting to engage and reengage users, and it courts new app developers with attractive advertising packages and impressive statistics. Facebook even has a new program called FbStart, catering specifically to newly launched startups to help them build and grow their apps.

Sealed with a KISS

Though part of the success paradigm, reaching a new audience of users is only half the battle. App design and the overall user experience are also critical.

Never have good design and readability been more important than in the cramped real estate of a mobile device screen. When combined successfully, they create something called “user friendliness,” which can make or break the success of an app.

The user-friendly apps thrive, whereas the complicated, overwrought ones, however rich in useful data they may be, flounder. If you’re familiar with the age-old advertising design principle “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” or KISS, user-friendliness follows the same premise

So what makes an app easy to use and follow? As with most Web-based user interfaces, there seems to be a formula. So, what role does design play in the overall commercial success of an app?

In his company blog, Russ Campbell, user interface / user experience director at Nudge, explains that the most common design mistake in consumer apps is designing visuals that are too interesting. He qualifies, “We always ask ourselves if new concepts are too interesting before putting them in front of people.”

App designers aim for simplicity and ease of use before good looks. To prove this theory, take a look at the apps that work the best for you, and you’ll see what he’s talking about.

Getting to Second Base — Beyond App Handholding

Given the rapid rise and prevalence of stay-healthy tools that stow-and-go in our own pockets, it was only a matter of time before tech became wearable.

Recent inventions include smart clothes, like hoodies with built-in heart monitors and shirts with biosensing feedback receptors. The future is here, and even if it’s not the prettiest to look at, it’s pretty exciting stuff.

Take the climate dress that flashes in a highly polluted environment, or the mood sweater that functions like a mood ring.

As predicted by CEO Stephane Marceau of OMsignal, makers of biometric smartwear, “We’re going to see technology integrated directly into our clothing, first through sensors, but eventually it will be weaved into the fibers.” Take the climate dress that flashes in a highly polluted environment, or the mood sweater that functions like a mood ring and reflects your state of mind by changing color.

In a recent Britton blog, “Connectivity Is Wearable Tech’s Strong Suit,” Steve Penhollow reported on what’s happening today in wearable tech and where it’s predicted to grow. Many of us at Britton are enjoying tracking these fascinating and game-changing tech advances that merge fitness gear and tools to boost fitness in highly functional and wearable forms.

Just the Nudge You Need?

Enough about who’s designing and downloading health and fitness apps. Let’s take a look at what’s available to us. With over 100,000 of these apps on the market, it may be prudent to narrow the list just a bit.

Let’s start by checking out what a few Britton diehards are saying about their favorite apps.

Britton’s Best Of

All in One, App in One

A recent boom in apps that sync up with — and combine and organize data from multiple app sources — fitness-tracking wearables like Jawbone and Fitbit is making happy campers out of weekend warriors and fitness fanatics. A few are winning over our affections too.

Nudge, launched in 2014, is a health-app-lover’s dream. It syncs up with seven other fitness apps and gathers a user’s comprehensive health and fitness stats into one data-loaded output.

After it crunches your scores gathered from each of the apps that it houses, it gives you a Nudge Factor — an index of fruit and veggie consumption, hydration, sleep duration and exercise data over 30 days — to help you close in on overall fitness goals.

Nudge has launched a new version, Nudge Coach, that serves up at-a-glance views of client data to help health and fitness practitioners put customized plans in place and allocate the right amount of time to each patient.

Map My Everything

If you view fitness as a lifestyle, and spend a fair amount of time on the road, the MapMyFitness app, recently acquired by sports-apparel giant Under Armour, could change your life.

An impressive suite of mobile apps that integrate with over 400 fitness tracking devices and wearables, the “Map My” dynasty includes MapMyRun, MapMyRide, MapMyWalk and MapMyHike, and features over 160 million running, cycling, walking and hiking routes across the globe.

Not only does this family of apps make maintaining your fitness output easy, but it also features a social component that allows you to cheer on and compete with fellow weekend warriors in other cities and parts of the world.

Another highly rated app to help maintain a well-rounded fitness plan is Sworkit (short for “simply work it”). Rather than a fitness tracker, Sworkit is a mobile fitness instructor that gives you an on-the-spot workout wherever you are.

Choose a type of workout — cardio, stretching, circuit training or yoga — and cross-reference it with the body area you want to focus on and how much time you have. Sworkit then serves up a customized workout video — it’s like traveling with your own personal trainer.

Good Health Is in Your Hands (and Your Future)

Widespread consumer acceptance of health and fitness apps, not to mention the technology itself, is still very much in its infancy. Industry experts who track this exploding app category predict that we can look forward to not just body-changing but life-changing advances in personal health in the years to come. But, as with any plan to make an improvement, consumers need to take a vested interest in taking their well-being into their own hands. If you’re one of them, we applaud you.

Photos: Shutterstock