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Health and fitness apps becoming lifestyle choice for many

April 8, 2021

Greg Sigel

VP – Partnerships

Downloads of health and fitness apps usually follow a time-honoured tradition that sees them peak every January as consumers make commitments to losing weight after the Christmas period’s excesses. But the onset of coronavirus at the beginning of 2020 dramatically altered the usual pattern. App Annie reports that April 2020 saw the most significant spike in global downloads – up 80% year on year to 276m as people looked for different ways to get active during widespread lockdowns that saw gyms and other sports facilities forced to close their doors.

In its 2021-2025 Mobile Market Forecast report, Sensor Tower also noted a surge in app downloads in the first few months of 2020 as coronavirus began to spread worldwide. The company saw a shift in the way consumers use health and fitness apps in the US, with increases in first-time installs peaking in Q220, particularly for the App Store, which saw a 52% year-on-year expansion.

The number of downloads across both Apple and Google Play in the US rose 22% in 2020, up to 405m installs, despite tailing off in the fourth quarter. Equivalent activity climbed sharply in Europe, increasing by approximately 46% year to 830m. By comparison, installs on the continent grew by just over 7% year in 2019 to 569m.

Popular health and fitness apps

The introduction of coronavirus contract tracing apps undoubtedly helped push up the total health and fitness app downloads and installs. But other evidence showing considerable jumps in revenue from apps in the category also suggest consumers are increasingly happy to pay for tools dedicated to helping them stay fit and active.

The single most downloaded app worldwide, for example, was India’s nationwide contact tracing app Aaragya Setu (India has a population of almost 1.4bn people, 79% of which use some form of a mobile phone according to GSMA Intelligence estimates) while in the US individual states and cities launched their versions. Growth in Europe spurred by government-backed COVID-19 contact tracing apps, including Turkey’s Hayat Eve Sığar and Germany’s Corona-Warn-App.

But other than Aaragya Setu, App Annie records the next four most downloaded health and fitness apps on a global basis as Home Workout – No Equipment [sic], activity tracker Mi Fit, the Lose Weight App for Women and the Fio Period & Ovulation Tracker.

Interestingly though, ranked by Consumer spend rather than downloads, the top five were mediation, sleep and relaxation apps Calm and Headspace; diet and fitness tracker MyFitnessPal; running and cycling monitor Strava, and women focussed personal training tool Sweat with Kayla. Weight Watchers Mobile and Fitbit also generated revenue in specific territories such as the US and Germany.

Consumer spend increasing

Some of those popular health and fitness apps are making large amounts of money for their developers. Sensor Tower data calculated the top-grossing health and fitness app worldwide in August 2020 was Strava (US$13.8m), followed by MyFitnessPal (US$7.4m), Calm, Headspace and Fitbit. The US accounts for large proportions of that revenue, 27% in the case of Strava, followed by the UK (12%) and the Netherlands (7%).

App Annie’s latest State of Mobile 2021 report calculates that total spend on health and fitness apps in the Apple App Store rose 30% year on year to US$2bn. The amount of time logged using Android smartphones (an essential indicator of monetisation for apps beyond any app store purchase fees) increased dramatically, up 25% to 5.4bn hours between 2020 and 2019, recorded the company.

Sensor Tower calculated that Q420 spending on health and fitness apps in Europe specifically was US$140m. That was only slightly below the Q220 (US$142m) and Q320 (US$148m) peaks but a long way north of the US$81m spent in the fourth quarter of 2019. Continued lockdown restrictions on the continent undoubtedly impacted here. Still, the findings suggest that many people have implemented longer-term healthy lifestyle choices rather than effected temporary changes in response to the pandemic.

That has led Grand View Research to predict the total global fitness app market will grow a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 21% between 2020 and 2026 to be worth almost US$11bn. Developers responded to the opportunity by releasing more than 71,000 health and fitness apps globally in 2020, 19% more than they did in 2019. But increasing their revenue streams also depends on reaching the broadest possible audience, meaning they may also need to make it easier for customers in all age groups to access and pay for their apps and recurring subscriptions.

Most, if not all, commercial health and fitness apps offered tiered pricing, which extends from free, often ad-supported versions to premium equivalents providing advanced features and functionality. Headspace, for example, offers a monthly subscription of US$12.99 per month, with discounted yearly membership equal to US$7.99 per month.

With low subscription fees, which can be quickly cancelled and re-instated on demand, those health and fitness app subscriptions are ideal candidates for carrier billing payment mechanisms that add charges to customer mobile phone bills. Carrier billing allows their owners to court younger subscribers without ready access to debit/credit cards. At the same time, third-party payment service providers can negotiate partnership deals with multiple telcos and operators in different parts of the world to maximise customer reach and income.

Honing an effective billing and distribution strategy now gives both new and established health and fitness app developers the opportunity to help their customers put a year of frustration and disappointment behind them whilst preparing a solid platform for expansion in 2021 and beyond.