I spend more time with my iPhone than with any one person, and you probably do too. It’s in my pocket if I’m walking, it’s in my console if I’m driving and it’s on my nightstand when I’m sleeping. It’s a love-hate affair.
I love what I can do with the phone, but I hate that I use it because it’s a distraction from reality. I feel empowered with access to knowledge from around the world and the ability to connect with friends, past and present, but I really hate this technological invasion into my psyche, the formerly impenetrable fortress of all that is right and good in the world.
Yet, I often edit and publish articles about the potential that mobile health, or mHealth, apps have to change people’s health choices, but I’m personally skeptical of the hype because the focus is on the technology itself, rather than on the user who actually thinks technology can help him become healthy. The fact that 38% of mobile apps are not used after the first day and 90% are abandoned after six months simply reinforces the lack of faith I have in smart phones and tablets miraculously changing how most Americans treat their bodies.
Well, I’m here to tell you that this Homer is slowly becoming a believer in the potential of mHealth, and here are the factors that turned my opinion and what I believe must first be present for app success: A strong desire to take personal action and a simple, straightforward app.
Here’s what begun to change my mind.
For the 15 years prior to 2011, I was physically fit. An avid runner and regular gym goer, I got at least 45 minutes of exercise four to six days a week with a diet healthier than most. Due to several reasons, I got off my exercise schedule in early 2011 and have yet to fully get back on track.
With two young daughters and a 40 minute one-way commute to work, I simply do not have the time I used to have for exercise, despite a strong desire to stay fit. I realize that’s an excuse but it’s my reality, and if mHealth app developers don’t consider this common problem, I think their hard work is likely to fail.
After several abandoned attempts at various popular home workouts, I browsed the iTunes Store and found a fitness app called Gorilla Workout, developed by Heckr LLC. Despite its chest-beating, gym dude name, the app has 663 reviews that gave it an average of more than 4.5 stars. 663 reviewers must be right, so I paid the $3 and decided to give it a try. My review: it’s brilliant.
It’s brilliant because it’s well designed, it’s simple, it’s clutter/ad free and it is totally self-contained with no need to access the web. Unlike other health apps I’ve tried, Gorilla realizes that it first needs to win you over and it does so by taking the foot-in-door approach versus the door-in-face approach that is the downfall of all the apps I’ve deleted. I want less “Look how this app can revolutionize your live” and more of a Tiny Habits approach to adoption.
The first few Gorilla workouts only took me about 15 minutes, yet they gave me enough of a workout that I was willing to try it again, and then again… until it got me to buy in and say to myself, “OK, I’m going to complete this entire workout.”
The app provides a personal connection by including very short videos of each workout exercise performed by a regular-looking guy in a neighborhood park. The approach is effective, and the fact that each video is included within the app means that I don’t have to wait for an embedded or linked video to load. This feature eliminates any confusion about how to perform a Burpee or a Clockwork Jump because I can see exactly how it’s done, right when I need to see it.
The app also isn’t pushy. It never sends annoying alerts about a work out. Alert me enough times during stressful weeks that I should be working out and I’ll remove the app nine out of 10 times. I have a family, a job, a dog and a home that all have certain requirements of me, I most definitely don’t have room for a nagging app.
I’ve used Gorilla Workout 15 times, and I’m not worried that I won’t finish the 50+ workouts on my current level, but that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that mHealth app developers can learn a lot from the effective simplicity of this app:
- Keep it simple
- Don’t try to do too much
- Make the app easy to use
- Don’t lose focus of the main intention of your app
- Remove unnecessary information and distracting ads, especially for apps that require a fee
- Take small steps to gain user trust
- Let users know their progress
- Provide information where it’s needed, when it’s needed
It’s simple, yet few mHealth developers seem understand that. Guys like me want my smart phone to be a tool I can use with minimal instruction and with minimal preparation time. If I want to read a book, I’ll buy or download one. If I ever find myself wanting to look at ads, flashing graphical elements or constant reminders that I need to exercise or eat right, I’ll immediately create real positive changes in my life by throwing my iPhone in the nearest lake. Don’t tempt me.
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