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Research offers insights into what makes a successful smartphone health app

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5 factors that play an important role

New research from the University of East London provides valuable insights into why people download some smartphone health apps and ignore others.

The analysis comes at a time when mobile phone tech is increasingly viewed as an effective way to increase the awareness of healthy lifestyles or to nudge people away from bad habits.

Dr Gokhan Aydin, a specialist in digital marketing, analysed the reviews and descriptions of 520 free and 520 paid-for health and lifestyle apps and ran the findings through a range of algorithms to study why some apps received good reviews and high downloads and others failed to make an impact.

His findings highlight five key attributes of a successful smartphone app:

  • The app is free at the point of purchase, with paid in-app options to upgrade.
  • The app contains a social networking element and sharing options
  • The app offers notifications and feedback on user performance
  • Privacy information features prominently in the description
  • Videos are used at the point of sale or download.

Dr Gokhan Aydin said, “The use of mobile phone apps to improve people’s health is widely understood to be an area of major promise but there are still obstacles to overcome to ensure that people download them, trust them and use them.

“These results should help policy makers, health providers and technology firms shape their health apps more effectively and begin reap the benefits of educating people to monitor and improve their own lifestyles.

“The findings are especially relevant in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic as people need to stay at home, increasing the chances of piling on the calories or becoming inactive.”

Dr Aydin, from the School of Arts and Creative Industries, found that the most common health app theme was Physical Activity (34.8%) followed by Personal Health and Wellbeing (23.4%), Mental Health (14.2%) and Health Eating (14.1%).

He also discovered that apps targeting bad habits – such as smoking, drinking and drugs – received relatively low interest from developers.

Professor Verity Brown, pro vice-chancellor (impact and innovation) said, “The University’s Vision 2028 transformation strategy places a high premium on academic research that impacts on people’s everyday lives.

“Dr Aydin’s research comes at a time when health lifestyles are under multiples threats and the temptations of indulgence are high. So his findings about how policy makers can better promote public health incentives through mobile apps is especially relevant.”

The full research findings are available online.