Which fitness app subcategories are the most popular among customers?
What features are going to dominate the market in the future?
How much do people spend on mobile apps while achieving their fitness goals?
Curious about the state of the health and fitness app market? So were we, so we compiled this comprehensive report which answers the above questions and more. If you’re thinking of building a mobile startup in this domain, the following information is invaluable.
During our research and subsequent analysis, we used some global statistics but primarily focused on the health and fitness app markets in America and Australia. The US remains a driving force within the industry, even though it no longer represents a top-grossing market it still has the largest number of mobile app companies (more on that later).
Moreover, American customers are likelier to participate in studies examining user behaviour than nationals of other countries. The resulting statistics provide valuable information for those launching a mobile startup. We also took a closer look at Australian app users because this is where MadAppGang is based.
The main sources of information we used were: App Annie, Flurry Analytics, CB Insights, Statista, Business of Apps.
Consumer demand for a healthier lifestyle has been rising exponentially. The growing interest in balanced diets, flexible workouts, and improved healthcare has laid the groundwork for health and fitness applications to flourish. Reports show that the industry has been on the increase year after year. While some aspects are totally monopolised by leading American companies, overall the app market is shifting in favour of other countries.
It’s a global trend which concerns all mobile apps. Worldwide, app revenue has grown in leaps and bounds: compare $69.7 billion in 2015 to $365.2 billion in 2018. According to Statista, this number is expected to treble by 2023.
Revenues for health and fitness mobile apps are also thriving, reaching $0.51 billion in 2015 and $2.1 billion in 2017. Polaris Market Research forecasts that the global health app market size will reach $14.7 billion by 2026. Other sources are slightly more conservative, putting the figure at $10.9 billion.
Since 2013, Asian app markets have outperformed American ones. Japan kicked off this shift and in 2016, China roared ahead. The Asia Pacific region (APAC), which includes Australia, accounts for 64 per cent of global app downloads. Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) account for 19 per cent, while North, Central and South America (AMER) claim a 17 per cent share. Source: Business of Apps
Emerging Asian markets also lead when it comes to the growth of in-app ads: APAC shows the largest ad spend, estimated to reach $30 billion out of the $64 billion spent globally by 2020. Source: AppsFlyer
However, it is the US mobile industry that sets the trends accepted globally. Crucially, what matters for health and fitness apps and developers is that North America will only further its dominance over digital health. Experts forecast the market will reach $219.7 billion by 2025, more than half of the global market. Source: MarketWatch
For a more detailed discussion on how digital health trends are interlinked with fitness apps, please check out our post on healthcare mobile apps.
It was much easier to launch a fitness app a decade ago, filling a gap in the market with totally new functionality. Nowadays, there are hundreds of mobile programs for every little detail concerning health and fitness, which makes it hard for newcomers to establish a strong brand. It’s highly unlikely that the biggest app owners will be pushed out of the competition, if anything, they will probably suppress new startups unless the latter have something unique to offer.
Among the 500 best-performing apps in Google Play and the Apple App Store, those owned by Simple Design and Leap Fitness Group hold shares of 19.17 and 10.44 per cent respectively of all app reviews. Interestingly, these companies aren’t the developers behind the top-grossing apps and they aren’t discussed in the media at all.
Period Tracker, made by Simple Design and ranked 67th in Australia and 56th in the USA, has garnered close to 5 million user reviews on Google Play since its release in 2012. We couldn’t find any information that explains why this app gets such attention, neither the developer nor the app has a website, which is a must nowadays, and their overall online presence is limited to these reviews.
Even though Period Tracker has collected so many positive reviews, the lack of functionality and the disturbing pink style explain why apps such as Clue, which is neutral in design and science-savvy, have much better ratings. Clue is ranked 27th and 28th in the US and Australia respectively. Therefore, an impressive number of reviews doesn’t mean that much.
Some developers boast both quantity and quality: MyFitnessPal, Runtastic, and Nike apps account for 6.52, 3.58, and 3.42 per cent of all reviews.
In 2015 and 2016, sports apparel brands acquired five major fitness apps, including Runtastic and Runkeeper, two of the most popular running programs. These were notable deals involving hundreds of millions of dollars, for example, MyFitnessPal was sold for a record figure of nearly half a billion.
Acquisitions made by Under Armour, Asics, and Adidas, along with branded running apps by Nike and Puma, showed that the sports apparel industry is incorporating mobile technologies into its ecosystem. Such ownership opened possibilities whereby user data could be analysed for cross-marketing purposes and sales of apparel and shoes could be boosted with mobile ads. For more details, check out our post on applications for running.
As we explained in our guide to app development, an app is never finished and a continuous process of support and maintenance is required. Bug fixes, the launch of new features, or a redesign call for regular app updates. According to statistics, free apps release updates every 20 - 25 days and paid apps average every 50 - 55 days. Several sources agree that monthly updates are the optimal solution.
We analysed lists of the top-500 paid and free apps for iOS and Android and discovered that out of two thousand top apps, nearly 700 were not updated in 2019. This suggests these programs are practically dead to users, which substantially shrinks the size of the competition and makes way for new solutions.
Activity tracking, fitness on demand, workout and diet plans, self-care, medical treatment, and patient-doctor communication are all essential app categories in the health and fitness domain. To start a successful app business, one should know which categories are in demand and the potential success of a brand new subcategory.
Popular interest in mental health and wellness is increasing. More media items mention mental health and there are greater search numbers for such issues. Not surprisingly, more apps are designed to help people learn about their minds and emotional wellbeing.
Meditation and apps focused on overall mental health are gaining momentum. Several studies support this trend including CB Insights’ latest report for Q1 and Q2 in 2019.
Two of the most popular apps in this category have been continuously ranked among the top-grossing fitness apps in both Australia and other parts of the world. As of August 2019, Calm holds first place with Australian iOS users and second with Australian Android users. Headspace tops the Android list and is ranked fifth in the iOS list. Source: App Annie
As we mentioned in our post on health and fitness app developers, these two apps account for 90 per cent of all revenue in the meditation app category.
Bloom, Centr, and Fabulous are also among the top-grossing mental health and wellness apps in Australia. The situation is similar in the US, Calm and Headspace hold top five positions for both iOS and Android with other mindfulness apps occasionally appearing on the list.
The benefits of meditation and other wellbeing habits have been increasingly mentioned on media, so people want to give it a try, and now they can do so at any time and virtually from anywhere in the world through a mobile app. This provides flexibility, but also a sense of psychological safety and security as people can control what practice they will engage with and for how long.
There are, of course, downsides of this trend, since professional human guidance and mental health support can’t be fully replaced by what mobile apps can offer. I think this is the only issue that can eventually hinder the trend, but human creativity and innovation are unstoppable and new apps will eventually satisfy people’s need for more interactive and professional wellbeing support.
Vanessa Dias (thewellbeingblogger.com)
While fitness app use grew by 330 per cent between 2014 and 2017, the studio and fitness segment has grown a massive 830 per cent. Source: Flurry Analytics
Market analysis of fitness apps shows an increasing demand for gym-based exercise programs. We delved into the benefits a custom app offers fitness studios in our post on gym app development. Such health and fitness app statistics also show the popularity of workout programs that allow users to exercise at home and without special equipment.
According to the 2015 Nielsen survey, 34 per cent of US users planned on using mobile apps to achieve their goals. Out of the 500 best free and paid applications for both iOS and Android, more than 100 have a weight-loss focus. Many have high rankings, for example, BetterMe: Weight Loss Workouts sits in the top five in both the US and Australian app markets.
It’s not surprising that working out, for weight loss or otherwise, is the use most fitness apps are engaged in. This category has grown from 44 per cent of all user sessions in 2014 to 73 per cent in 2017. Source: Flurry Analytics
The mHealth market reached 44.44 billion in 2019. Source: Statista
Healthcare app development is more challenging as it deals with medical institutions, different data formats, and laws. Despite that, the number of healthcare apps is growing. In the 2017 IQVIA report, it was estimated that 200 new apps were added each day. In 2018, digital healthcare hit a record $9.5 billion in investments, with mobile apps attracting the second-largest sum among all the categories. Source: Healthcare Weekly
A recent meta-analysis of activity tracking programs showed that apps did not trigger any significant behavioural improvements. That said, we are still in the early days in terms of discovering the effectiveness of fitness applications and many questions arise in light of usage data. How consistently do people use such apps and what does it mean for mobile entrepreneurs?
According to a 2015 Google study, every fourth user learns about a new app through search. Health and sports categories leaders among online searches on mobile devices, coming second only to food and beverage topics. Source: The Hitwise Mobile Search: Topics and Themes. Mobile startups should consider this fact and always work on their product’s online presence and search optimisation potential.
Developers should also promote applications directly in the app stores. 12 per cent of users look for new apps every day and 65 per cent of all downloads come after users browse the store. Source: TechCrunch
26 per cent of customers use fitness apps over ten times per week. Source: Flurry Analytics
A shift has occurred from fitness apps offering guided coaching towards shorter programs. We discovered why HIIT is so popular in our post on HIIT workout apps, in short, people are willing to commit to a daily activity that requires less time. Among exercising apps, seven-minute and four-minute programs are on the rise.
Even in meditation, where haste seems counterproductive, shorter plans are in demand. The founder of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, didn’t believe ten-minute meditation sessions would work until he started the app. When users started asking for five-minute sessions, Headspace responded with a new series of mini-meditations. One of their corporate clients, Snapchat, even asked for a one-minute meditation.
Customer churn rates in fitness applications outweigh retention in any kind of app. According to statistics, 71 per cent of users will abandon an application within three months. The current year shows a further decrease in retention with 32 per cent of users returning to an app 11 times or more within a measured period compared to around 37 per cent in previous years. Source: Statista
People may abandon applications because of a lack of an evidence base. We asked a wellbeing blogger about the possible harms of mental health app usage:
Having done a bunch of research and testing of mental health apps, I've found that the apps that work best encourage human-to-human communication. My sense isn't that there is a huge health risk to using these apps, but you can waste your time and feel like you're spinning in circles. Try to research the team behind the apps you're using and stay tuned in to the effect that the app is having on you.
Meredith Arthur (bevoya.com)
Even though morning exercises are considered the healthiest by scientists, evening training sessions are practically as good, so long as people don’t go to sleep immediately afterwards. Recent studies dispel the myth that evening workouts disturb sleep. Source: Time
Professional coaches argue that any time of the day can be favourable, as long as workouts are consistent, and effectiveness largely depends on an individual’s circadian rhythms and personal preferences.
The peak app usage period is during the evening. People are working out, planning routines by reviewing their progress, and setting goals for the next day. 10 pm is the record-breaking usage point for fitness apps – developers should schedule specific notifications and ads for that time. Source: Flurry Analytics
Most of the best performing fitness apps were founded by people who needed a tool to solve their own problem and decided to create one themselves.
MyFitnessPal, the all-time American market leader, was founded thanks to Mike Lee’s personal desire to get fitter before his wedding. He couldn’t find a suitable online solution for counting calories and checking the nutritional value of foods and so pioneered such a service. MyFitnessPal started as a website in 2005 and appeared on the app market in 2009.
The story of the successful activity-tracking app Strava originates from a need Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath experienced while in college. The app’s founders wanted to build a community where cyclists could track their performance and compare their results with others. Gainey and Horvath launched Strava in 2009 and its community-driven nature, which comes from the founders’ vision, is the app’s secret to success.
We described Strava’s essential features in our post on the best running apps.
Any app should be specific when targeting an audience. Knowledge of the demographic breakdown brings app companies one significant step closer to success. Below we highlight two of the major gender and age tendencies in the health app market.
There are a variety of health apps specifically designed for the needs of women including programs for fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and so on. There are more female users in general, too. Mothers who lead a healthy lifestyle and are aged 25 to 54 were defined by Flurry as the most enthusiastic about fitness.
What’s more, women are more likely to participate in app surveys, which means mobile entrepreneurs have more available data about female users to tailor apps to their preferences. Source: Translational Behavioral Medicine
There are a few ultra-successful fitness apps targeted at women – Sweat and BetterMe. In addition to these, there are hundreds of specific women’s health apps. For example, the period tracker Flo was ranked the sixth-highest grossing in the Australian App Store in August 2019. Sweat and BetterMe are also in the top ten. Source: App Annie
Millennials are the most active fitness app users but the children’s health category has great potential to change these statistics. Kids and teens have a growing interest in mobile tech in general, and many struggling with their weight could benefit from workout and weight-loss applications.
A 2018 study of teenagers’ perceptions of mobile health apps showed that existing apps didn’t court adolescent engagement. Teens want higher awareness on the topic and are likely to use apps promoted by celebrities and via social media. This is an opportunity fitness apps have to grab. From what we’ve seen so far, very few apps have a solid online presence and even fewer promote their services with the help of celebrities who are not in the world of sports.
There are some successful cases where fitness apps gained popularity with kids and teenagers. Exergames like Zombies, Run! attract young users via a captivating, game-like process while fitness apps such as Sworkit create separate programs for kids with customisable workout plans. Since children prioritise fun and ease of use, a health app targeted at them should be gamified to a great extent. For more details, check out our post on gamification techniques in mobile apps.
Along with kids and teenagers becoming aware of their health and getting involved in fitness activities, family workouts are gaining momentum. In a recent MyFitnessPal study, 12.4 per cent of users claimed that being a role model for their kids was their primary motivation. With that said, fun family workouts have proven to be beneficial for both fitness goals and mental health.
Out of the plethora of fitness apps, only a few can brag about high usage metrics. Fitness applications fail to attract users for a number of reasons including inadequate attention to health parameters, a lack of engaging features, and poor customisation ability. So, what health and fitness app features are likely to become in demand in the future?
One study of cardiorespiratory fitness showed users seek health parameter measurements and an evidence-based interpretation of fitness results. Heart rate sensor integration is at the core of such a need.
Heart rate tracking during exercise is crucial for keeping the activity healthy. By measuring the target and resting heart rate, people have control over the intensity of their training. A recent study of iOS-based fitness tracking apps showed a lack of accuracy in heart rate assessment. Thus, applications should concentrate on that aspect and improve their heart rate sensor integration.
An analysis of user intention when using fitness trackers identified two main incentives: expectation confirmation and social comparison. The latter option, which allows users to compare their performance with others, is embodied through leaderboards and social sharing functionality in fitness apps. Literature on social comparison theory applied to health notes that a competitive climate and self-efficacy are the two major benefits of user comparison.
There are many aspects that can be compared, from the number of gym visits to overall progress, and much more in between. Further research into the most applicable points of comparison among different user groups is yet to be completed. There’s also the question of who to share fitness data with, some people prefer to comparing their results with similar users while others would rather see mixed statistics.
The implementation of AI in health startups is reaching funding highs. In the second quarter of 2019 alone, healthcare companies and wellness projects powered by AI raised $864 million and $321 million respectively. The largest share of investments goes to apps matching users with licensed therapists, such as the recently launched Talkspace. Source: CB Insights
For what it’s worth, the overall AI software market will reach $118 billion by 2025, according to Statista.
AI in healthcare apps can be used for drug simulation, in the provider setting (for instance, for EMRs analysis), or for pattern recognition. AI in fitness can provide customisable coaching and deep user data analysis. Many AI-powered chatbots are already used in fitness and mental health apps.
Social environment and individual characteristics are the main determinants of human health. These aspects can be divided into a variety of factors that influence both an individual’s health and their attitude toward fitness. It’s nigh on impossible to consider every factor that impacts the fitness industry but there are some market trends worth exploring.
Thanks to fitness resolutions made at the beginning of each new year, there is always the rise of app subscriptions in Q1. We mentioned how such resolutions impacted the sales of the 7-Minute Workout in our post on health and fitness app development.
Another spike of interest comes at the end of summer. August is the most active month with usage levels 23 per cent higher usage than the yearly average. Source: Flurry Analytics
Political events impact mental health. One 2016 American survey revealed the majority of participants viewed political change in the country as a significant source of stress. The meditation app Headspace experienced a 44 per cent jump in special sessions called SOS the day after the presidential elections, proving the link between stress levels and political changes.
User fitness routines and health data are often shared with third parties for advertising and analytics purposes. Personal data usage can bring valuable insights to both fitness companies and customers but the negative side of unauthorised access holds many dangers, such as prejudiced policy decisions by insurers.
Jill Duffy, technology writer and PCMag.com columnist, explains why privacy in health and fitness apps is essential and why the situation must improve:
People want to track their health and fitness in part because it makes them feel empowered. For example, it can be a game changer to know your resting heart rate every day, taken when you're home and relaxed, rather than judging it on one reading per year in a doctor's office. That said, people also want and deserve privacy. So far, privacy has been a serious shortcoming of the fitness-tech industry. It must improve. People should be able to track data about themselves privately without also giving it away to the companies that make data-tracking possible.
The lion’s share of healthcare apps function to inform users about symptoms, health conditions, allergens, and so on. The next most popular feature of such apps is instruction, followed by tracking, alerting, and communication. However, most apps providing information don’t give users any instructions on healthcare practices. Source: IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics
Interoperability and the unification of health data used in mobile apps have become problematic. The industry lacks a universal standard applicable to all medical cases. There have been two key efforts towards interoperability: FHIR and SMART. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) laid the foundation for electronic health records in 2014 while Substitutable Medical Apps, Reusable Technologies (SMART) was launched in 2010 to develop standards for healthcare. The initiative offers a platform for creating SMART or FHIR applications but there are still few of them. According to iNTERFACEWARE, there were nearly 50 in 2016.
People are more willing to pay for fitness and wellness apps than gym membership and therapy. That said, few customers enjoy paid applications: a 2015 online survey revealed that 81 per cent of the respondents would not buy such a service. However, users often loosen their purse strings for additional in-app functionality such as personalised subscriptions.
In the early years of mobile apps, paid versions were the common monetization strategy. The relationship between paid apps and in-app purchases has shifted over time, now the latter is most responsible for how apps make money. The impact of in-app ads has also increased but not that significantly. Source: Business of Apps
In-app purchases include premium content, digital goods, and subscriptions. The latter is the most popular choice in the fitness app market, companies offer a basic package for free and an advanced, personalised service at a cost.
According to 2016 data from MarketingLand, consumers watched significantly more retail ads on their smartphones but when it came to buying products, they opted for desktop four times out of five. Despite such a gap, mobile ad spending continues to grow and now accounts for one-third of all digital ad spending.
Among the 500 best-paid health and fitness apps in each marketplace, only 25 have a price surpassing $10. Most cost as little as $0.99 (72 in Google Play and 110 in the App Store) or $1.99 (57 and 117). On average, the price is slightly lower in Google Play.
One interesting aspect is that prices in Google Play are far more differentiated, while most iOS paid apps have a typical 99-cent ending price, Android apps vary greatly. The correlation between price points and user spend requires further research.
What statistics do show is that Android users download apps more often and Apple users are willing to pay more. Source: Business Insider. As a survey by Slickdeals suggests, spending demography can be explained by the fact that iPhone owners have higher salaries and are generally happier.
In 2018, an average US iPhone user spent $79 on apps, while the health and fitness category experienced a 75 per cent growth from 2017, reaching an average spend of $2.7. Source: TechCrunch
The app market is a part of a larger ecosystem which includes fitness studios and health-related products. While the industry is booming in general, it doesn’t mean that consumer app spends is always boosted by the amounts spent on related services.
A national survey from 2016 showed that wearables ownership had doubled within a single year, resulting in one in five Australians with a fitness tracker or smartwatch. 18 per cent of the survey’s participants claimed to own several wearable devices. Millennials are the driving force behind the industry but fitness tracking technology also attracts an older crowd.
According to eMarketer, 22 per cent of Americans are currently using wearable devices. As in Australia, young people aged between 25 and 35 are responsible for most wearable purchases in the US. However, older people aged 55 and over are the fastest-growing segment in the fitness device market.
According to CommBank research, Australian customers were expected to spend $4.7 billion to achieve their fitness goals in 2018. The average Australian spends $38 per month on fitness, which results in an impressive $712 million national spend. The report also showed that younger generations spend more on fitness than anything else.
Americans bring much higher revenues to fitness-centred companies. According to a Myprotein survey, an average adult consumer spends $155 per month on fitness.
However, the situation isn’t very favourable for mobile apps. Survey participants pay for nutritional supplements and gym memberships but aren’t very interested in the personal trainers or meal plans provided by popular fitness apps.
General consumer app spend, including the health and fitness app market, is continuously growing but the numbers are far from the amounts spent on non-app-related fitness products.
As we’ve seen, the market is thriving but also crowded with dominant programs and companies that take the lion’s share. There is still space for new and fresh ideas that address specific user needs, the trick is to pay attention to the current state of the market and seek a viable opening.
23 October 2019
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