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6 Ways Top Fitness Apps Inspire Long-Term Use

woman running on track while using fitness appWhat makes a successful app is not the number of downloads, but how well the platform fosters use over a long period of time. Fitness apps have learned to excel in this area, because, quite simply, they have to.

It’d be nice if you could go for a jog one time, and be instantly fit and healthy. Unfortunately for those of us who hate running (and other activities that don’t involve couches), fitness doesn’t work that way. You have to actually exercise multiple times, day after day, to see improvements in your physical health.

Fitness apps, therefore, can only be successful if consumers continue to use them regularly; making them the shining example for app builders to study when thinking about long-term user appeal. While each one is a little bit different, the top fitness apps share key user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) features that keep fitness buffs coming back for more.

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1. Allow for Goal Setting (and Tracking)

All of the most popular fitness apps offer the ability for users to set goals within the platform. Fitbit is designed to help users reach a certain number of steps or calories burned each day, rewarding them with online badges and praise when they reach those milestones.

The long-term appeal of these apps comes less from setting the goal itself, and more from watching yourself move towards (and eventually meet) that goal, also called gamification. It’s basic human psychology. Being able to see and monitor progress keeps people motivated to continue working towards an endpoint or milestone.

The jogging and cycling app MapMyFitness not only makes it easy to set goals, but also displays your goals alongside a “percentage complete,” so you can visualize and track your progress.

The ability to set and monitor goals increases the likelihood of long-term app usability, as users are much more incentivized to stay on track when they can see how they’re doing.

2. Play Nice with Others

The leading fitness apps are easily synced with other platforms and devices, which is crucial to the long-term appeal for their users. People don’t exercise in a bubble; they seek various workout tools, techniques for different body parts or muscle groups, and even entertainment as they work towards their overall health goals.

A fitness app that exists in a silo will quickly become useless to consumers — sure, it helps you track your jogging, but that’s not the only activity contributing to your health. People who jog are likely to also care about other aspects of their health, including diet, muscle strength, heart health, and weight management.

That’s why many developers have chosen to ensure their apps integrate with larger health monitoring platforms, such as Apple’s Healthkit, and Google Fit. This app provides a central spot to monitor the data being received from various wearables and fitness accounts. Being able to sync well with other products and platforms allows a single fitness app to merge smoothly into a user’s lifestyle.

Developers should ensure data collected via an app is easily accessible across platforms — users appreciate the convenience of being able to access and share their data on every platform.

3. Explain Data Clearly

The data fitness apps provide is worthless until you know how to apply it to your life and workout goals. Most health-conscious consumers aren’t looking for an overwhelming amount of scientific data to sift through and form conclusions. They’re more often looking for an app to play the role of expert, trainer, or coach — someone to gather information about their fitness activities and then make sense of it for them.

The popular Jawbone app sends users regular summaries of their fitness progress, which the app’s SmartCoach transforms into fitness recommendations and personalized challenges. Users can also compare their fitness patterns to those of other people in the same demographic.

Adding context to data and showing users the next steps they can take makes it easy and desirable for consumers to keep using the app.

4. Foster Social Connection

The best technological innovations are often those that help us connect with other people (think texting, social media, online forums… the Internet in general). Successful fitness apps have realized that adding connectivity is an extremely effective way to engage users over the long-term.

A study conducted with Fitbit and Jawbone users found the majority of participants were eager to engage and relate to others through an online community. It determined that while wellness is important, users also want a feature that helps them relate to others.

Designing for social connection also means ensuring your app has built-in social share functions. Sharing fitness goals and accomplishments holds a user to account, and creates a community of people who are supporting that person in achieving their fitness goals. The Nike+ running app has a feature where social media enthusiast joggers can snap photos during their run and create a beautiful graphic accompanied by their distance and time details.

5. Keep the Interface Simple

When it comes to UI, the hottest fitness apps embrace the “less is more” mentality. Exercise can already bring a sense of dread, and dealing with a page-laden app or lengthy registration process will only make it worse.

Yoga app Down Dog has made it simple for yogis of all experience levels to start their workout. Users don’t need to register or log in — they simply select a workout intensity and the app cues the sequence. Down Dog includes high resolution photos and audio guides, meaning users never have to stop in the middle of a workout to research a certain sequence or yoga position. The app also fits its technicalities — including terms of use and social links — all neatly on one page, making things as streamlined as possible for the user.

Removing as many mental barriers as possible makes it easy for consumers to continue using an app. If people need to spend a lot of time navigating, exploring, and understanding the layout of your UI, they’re more likely to lose interest and find a simpler app.

6. Design Matters — A Lot

Design expert John Maeda urges business leaders to stop thinking of design, technology, and business as three separate things. Good design is essential in everything from product development, to marketing and sales, to the end user’s experience with the brand. The importance of design is evident in Headspace, an app that guides users through short daily meditations. The app goes beyond its simple functionality (helping users meditate), and also creates a positive design experience — extending from the soft pastel color scheme, to the friendly icons, to the blissfully unstimulating interface. Headspace understands its users are not only looking for a meditation tool but moreso a wholly relaxing and mindful experience. Effective design principles help the app achieve its calming aura over the long-term.

The Nike+ Training Club app also relies heavily on design principles to deliver the best experience to users. The app targets young, urban fitness buffs. It speaks to its target market with a design that incorporates bold sans serif fonts, energizing images, and minimalist workout videos directed by professional athletes. Just like the Headspace app, Nike+ Training Club doesn’t just give users the tools to exercise — it also delivers the aura of energy, motivation, and clear instruction that puts consumers in the right mindset to keep going.

For those considering building the next exciting app, let today’s leading fitness apps coach you in UX and UI strategies for long-term user loyalty. There are plenty of apps that can track your steps, measure your heart rate, or deliver guided meditation instructions; but the ones that keep people coming back — those that become part of users’ routines — are those that make it easy, motivating, and pleasant for them to continue exercising.

At Barefoot Solutions, we recognize that encouraging long-term use doesn’t come from what your app can do, but how it makes consumers feel when using it. That’s why we put so much time and attention into building the user-centered aspects of your app. Investing in good UX and UI design will allow you to build an experience that makes it easy, enjoyable, and desirable for consumers to continue using your app well into the future.

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