Verto Index: Health Apps

This month’s Verto Index looks at the top health and fitness apps among U.S. adults, ages 18+, and shows a ranking of the top apps (based on number of monthly users during August 2016), from Fitbit to Jawbone UP. Although recent academic studies question the actual effectiveness of wearable fitness trackers, Verto Analytics data shows that some health and fitness apps can successively build loyal, engaged audiences – at least in the short term. Our analysis also includes deeper insights into how people are actually using these apps, and identifies a few key trends that are likely to impact the space.

Fitbit is King

Our latest Index data shows that Fitbit is, by far, the category leader in just about every metric: monthly users, user engagement (as measured by the Verto Stickiness rating, which compares daily users to monthly users to quantify the most engaged users), and the amount of time that its users spend with the app on a daily basis. In fact, its stickiness rating of 50% is even higher than those of other popular non-fitness apps, including Pokémon GO and Snapchat. The average Fitbit user accesses the app more than twice a day and spend nearly three minutes with the app during each visit.

Click here to download the Index as a PDF.

Part of Fitbit’s success may be due to its age. It was one of the first health and fitness apps on the market, as well as one of the first companies to manufacture a companion wearable device: the company was founded in 2007 and released its first wearable activity tracker in 2009, several years ahead of competing products from Nike and Jawbone, and well ahead of the 2014 debut of the Apple Watch. More recently, the company has attempted to shape itself as a lifestyle brand: in addition to launching a broad line of customizable wearable devices at relatively accessible price points (its cheapest device is about $60 in the U.S.), the Fitbit app includes a diet tracker and nutritional guidance, a social network with gamification elements, and optional personal training modules. While other apps included in our Index offer one or more of these features, Fitbit has clearly identified ways to continuously engage its users and incentivize them to return to the app.

Fitness App Users Are Sticky But Small

In fact, when we look at the apps with the highest stickiest rating and number of average visits per user per month, activity-tracking and diet-tracking apps (as shown below) garner some of the top numbers; the average user accesses Nike+ Running (recently rebranded as Nike+ Run Club) and MyFitnessPal on a nearly daily basis. For a fitness app publisher, this is strong evidence that fitness apps can cultivate a loyal and engaged user base – and, more important, an audience with monetization potential.

The next challenge for many of these apps is user growth. With the exception of Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, and S Health for Samsung, all the apps on our Index have less than 3 million monthly users, which is a relatively small audience (in comparison, Pokémon GO’s user numbers peaked at over 30 million, and Snapchat has about 37 million monthly users). Can fitness apps employ some of the same user acquisition strategies used by social media and mobile gaming apps? Or does the fitness apps sector require a specific approach to new user growth?

Click here to download the Index as a PDF.

What does the health and fitness app sector tell us about the wearables market?

According to Verto Analytics data, wearables are one of the fastest-growing device markets around – over the past six months, wearables have enjoyed 37% growth in the U.S. and 51% growth in the UK over the same time period.

However, the market has seen a few bumps along the way, and products from startups and industry veterans alike often failed to gain consumer traction. Just this week, Microsoft announced that it was dropping its Band line of fitness devices, and Jawbone’s initial launch of its UP wristband was marred by poor quality control and faulty devices.

Our Index data shows that despite a rapidly growing wearables market, most consumers still remain hesitant to invest in a separate device, at least when it comes to tracking their daily activities. With the exception of the Fibit and the Jawbone UP, the highest and lowest-ranking apps on our Index (respectively), none of the apps listed here require a dedicated wearable device. Instead, most apps rely on the consumer’s own smartphone as the main tracking device, although some (such as MyFitnessPal) offer integrations for third-party wearables from Garmin, Apple, and other device manufacturers. Even Nike, which launched some of the first fitness wearables (including the FuelBand) has quietly phased out these products in favor of its Nike+ smartphone app.

For fitness app publishers, this approach makes a lot of sense: relying on a consumer’s own smartphone lowers the barrier to entry (by using a device the consumer already owns and is familiar with). It also automatically optimizes the potential market reach of its own app; Verto Analytics’ latest research shows that 68% of American adults own a smartphone – that’s a huge approachable market.

Will Apple Lead The Next Generation of Wearables?

Apple may be leading the way in redefining the wearable device. Tim Cook announced a new WatchOS and Apple Watch earlier this year, repositioning the device as a fitness, productivity, and safety necessity. App makers are already rolling out Apple Watch integrations, and the health and fitness sector is no exception: MyFitnessPal and Weight Watchers have already introduced Apple Watch apps. Nike is releasing a co-branded Nike+ Apple Watch later this month, further signalling Nike’s desire to focus on existing device ecosystems rather than marketing their own wearable (and bearing the responsibility for user acquisition).

While Google launched its Android Wear OS in 2014, it remains unclear if the company will take ownership over device production for the Android wearables market, as it is currently doing with its Pixel smartphone. This could provide a huge opportunity for Apple to gain a significant chunk of the wearables market – at least at the higher price points in the spectrum. (Fitbit seems well-positioned to maintain its lead at lower price points).

What’s Next for the Health and Fitness Market?

While Fitbit is definitively winning the wearables race for now (with the highest numbers of users, engagement, and stickiness levels), this is definitely a volatile space, with many publishers emerging onto the scene and then dropping out just as quickly. Perhaps one reason for this is that, despite the popularity of Fitbit, many consumers seem attracted to fitness-tracking apps that already work with devices they already own (namely, their smartphones). But with a newly revitalized wearables market, will some app publishers be tempted to venture into hardware development? Or will they stick to developing for mass-market devices that they do not own, in exchange for a much greater reach?

Interested in learning more about our data on health and fitness apps? Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest insights, and click here to download a copy of the Verto Index.