If you log, I log … Why are fitness apps so compelling?
I recently embarked on a 7-mile long hike with a group of hiking enthusiasts—after a couple of hours of climbing through sometimes steep terrain, we happily reached the mid-point and highlight of the hike—a hilltop with a wonderful view—the designated site for our rest and picnic lunch… After some feasting and a well-deserved rest I noticed a bunch of us, phone in hand, busily synching their activity trackers to their phone. A few of us even went further and dutifully input each type of food, and the amounts we had just consumed on our fitness app. It occurred to me that this scene would have looked ‘odd’ even last year, but now it felt like a normal thing to do!
Wearable technology has been around a while (for example, the FitBit was presented in 2008), but the trend for health and fitness connected to these digital trackers and apps has taken off just in the past couple of years. Even SAP is now offering incentive programs to employees on this technology! Why now? Likely more than one reason, but in my opinion, a convergence of hardware innovations, software ease of use, ‘always with you’ phone habits that make our phones an extension of our hand – and let’s not forget the social buzz – have finally come together to cook up the perfect storm. My friends and I bought into this activity tracking and food logging concept not only because we know it’s helpful to match our daily calorie allotment with the amount of exercise we do, and the hours of sleep we get, but because now these apps have made adoption very easy and worthwhile. If I were to bring an example of an engaging digital user experience is, I’d say it would be many of these fitness tracking apps. What has hooked us into these apps?
Forrester defines effectiveness, ease, and emotion as fundamental for a great customer experience. Are the customer needs met, is it easy for customers to interact with the experience provided (in this case, the app’s user interface), and are the customers feeling good about their interactions? All three dimensions definitely have played a part in my adoption of these activity trackers and apps. Let’s not forget the advocacy factor…. I found the activity tracker by myself, but a friend pulled me into the app where I manually log my daily diet and exercise. We now keep tabs on each other – if I log that piece of cake I just ate with them, they must log it too! The fitness app is easy to use—always with you on your phone, and it crowdsources from a vast database of scanned products and previous user inputs—build your favorite foods list once and then you just tap on the items you need daily. They are effective, as you instantly see the value of your inputs calculated against fitness or dietary goals. The emotion part is served right up–many of these apps have reward mechanisms built in, complete with social sharing—should you be inclined to share even this aspect of your life with thousands of strangers! No doubt the healthcare industry is counting on this user community to build up fast and keep a pulse on dietary and exercise habits now that big data allows this type of instant extrapolations.
For many, the incentive to adopt fitness trackers and be judicious in logging their dietary and fitness habits might not yet be there. Far from being a fad though, this trend is taking off and expectations are quite high. In a recent SAP News article, research projections on wearable technology estimate this market to be worth $5.8 billion by 2018, and one IDTechEx study predicts $70 billion in 2024, with the healthcare sector reaping the benefits of this convergence of fitness, wellness and medical apps. Innovative uses of the tracker and app combination, paired with the power to analyze big data are already allowing all sorts of scientifically sound and much less prosaic health studies—for example, a study is already out where a mobile app takes advantage of the accelerometer, touch screen sensors and a microphone in the phone to measure the health status of Parkinson’s disease patients, measure fluctuations in the severity of the disease and explore correlations with environmental factors such as sleep and exercise.
Meanwhile it would be interesting to see how many SAP employees take advantage of the company incentive for wearable fitness technology. Discounts aside, what incentive would motivate you to adopt and consistently use this technology? Lower health insurance premiums, perhaps?