If you’re a smartphone user and have noticed a lot more apps pushing you to be fit, it’s not just your imagination. According to Google, which looked at information from its online store, health and fitness applications were its quickest-growing category of 2014.
If you’re not familiar with these apps, they’re programs that can track your fitness in various ways. Some of them will time your runs or walks for you. Others will allow you to enter the calories you’ve consumed over time. Still others will actually use technology inside the phone to track your steps.
The biggest players in the technology field have been in on the trend, too.
Over those past 12 months, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all introduced their own take on the health app. Apple has the simply titled Health; Google has Google Fit, and Microsoft debuted Microsoft Health. These giant companies can read the download reports as well as the rest of us.
What ranked No. 1? According to Google, it was MyFitnessPal, a dieting app. It began life as a website nearly ten years ago. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, don’t worry. There are a multitude of other options around.
Researchers say that an overwhelming 100,000 apps in the health and fitness category are available on Google Android and Apple IOS devices. The market segment is worth some $4 billion now, but it could increase dramatically over the next few years.
As exciting as this growth might be, we still don’t know for sure what apps work, or how well. Indeed, the entire field is built upon untested ground. A certain amount of correlation with fitness is to be expected — after all, someone who doesn’t plan on making any positive changes in his or her life is unlikely to download a health app.
The key question for researchers and software developers will be to determine if these apps help people go above and beyond what they could accomplish on their own. Are there best practices that could be adopted throughout the field? If the apps turn out to be only mildly effective, will they be worth creating at all?
There’s a whole world of fitness technology beyond apps, too. A multitude of wearable health devices are available from your local big box stores, promising similar benefits through health tracking and monitoring.
And just like the apps, we’re not certain yet how those wearable will actually affect people’s health and well-being. A giant experiment, real-world experiment is now under way. Let’s hope that the results are good ones.