“Why Weight Loss Mobile Apps Aren’t Really Changing the Game” is an interesting Psychology Today article by Sherry Pagoto PhD, Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School @DrSherryPagoto.
“At this point, everybody (and their cousin Vinny) has developed a weight loss mobile app. Please stop people, unless you have a real game-changing idea. The market has become so quickly saturated that the average user has a hard time knowing which application is worth trying and which was developed in Vinny’s basement. A single bad experience with a crappy app discourages users from trying another. Nobody wants to go through the trouble of entering an entire day’s worth of food intake only to discover that they can’t figure out the next step or that desired functions are missing. Word of mouth will eventually thin the herd, but in the meantime, market saturation is hindering progress as usability (not features) is the only significant difference between apps”
Stay away developers, there’s nothing to see here
It’s a surprise to see that Sherry’s started a “grassroots mission” of her own because this idea of only doing something if you have a “real game-changing idea” obviously presupposes that everyone is in a position to know the difference. Perhaps Sherry thinks all these developers actually think they’re just part of some me-too herd, or perhaps Sherry’s never met a entrepreneur who gave it a shot and failed despite having a solid gut feeling that they were doing something “really really game changing”?
In my book the only thing that’s certain is that we don’t know who’s got the best new idea and where they are right now. Be careful what you dismiss out of hand and whatever you do don’t discourage your mobile app developer cousin Vinny to steer clear of the mHealth market as his ignorance of how the sickcare system works might be exactly what’s needed to think up a gamechanger…
Misunderstandings about how App Stores work
The article perpetuates some myths about app stores that give me a sense that the author has very little first hand experience or understanding of how app stores actually work:
“The market has become so quickly saturated that the average user has a hard time knowing which application is worth trying and which was developed in Vinny’s basement”
The first thing a customer sees is an apps community rating and feedback, as soon as you click on an app it tells you who it’s developer is. One more click and you can see other apps by this developer.
“A single bad experience with a crappy app discourages users from trying another”
I can imagine it might look like that from a 20,000 ft aerial view but this isn’t what’s happening in the real world where we can see it encourages customers to write a comment that this is a “crappy app” and that discourages other users from trying it and will lead to it being pushed to the bottom of the natural search so fewer potential customers even get to see it. A “crappy app” experience does the opposite of discouraging the trial of another and can actually drive customers to stay with recognised brands and act to actually encourage them to pay for and be quicker to appreciate and recommend quality alternatives.
“Word of mouth will eventually thin the herd, but in the meantime, market saturation is hindering progress as usability (not features) is the only significant difference between apps”
Eventually? This is Digital Darwinism powered by bucket loads of rocket fuel. It’s hard to find other services that sort the wheat from the chaff at anything like the speed of an App Store. Any app developer will tell you that market saturation makes it ALL about features and “one upping” one another eg. most developers are spending their time reading the comments (& complaints) on their own and their competitors apps as sources for ideas for FEATURES that they can add to make their app better.
Market research isn’t what helped Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone
“Research so far shows that mobile apps are no more effective than traditional methods of performing the same functions on reducing dietary intake or weight. Two studies showed that dietary tracking via a smartphone was no more effective at helping people eat less than dietary tracking via paper-and-pencil diaries (Acharya et al 2011; Burke et al 2012). I am in the midst of a similar study right now and so far our findings mirror these studies. Interestingly, one of the studies found that a mobile app that provided tailored advice to the user based on the data they entered was more effective than an app that did not. The meat and potatoes of behavioral modification counseling is building motivation and helping patients solve the problems that hinder their progress. I would love to see more of this in apps”
It’s 2012 you don’t have to spend any more research time or money working out whether people want to carry pieces of dead trees that they’ll scratch graphite across to make lists of what they’ve eaten (back in 2006 I showed an audience at the Royal Society of Medicine how this was already being done with nothing more than a basic camera phone).
New approach to innovation: Build on weakness
“Here I elucidate the weaknesses in the industry in the hopes of stimulating discussion about ways to improve the impact of this technology”
Here’s how I’d start that discussion: Instead of criticising the weaknesses of current approaches and discouraging app developers from looking at the challenges surrounding diet and exercise I feel it’s time we took advantage of the massive opportunity to find, copy and partner to build better.
Obviously some VC’s will consider this a disadvantage from their ROI perspective but can you imagine the potential if every obesity expert spent the weekend finding their favorite app (we’re all on America’s Got mHealth Talent remember?) emailed the developer and asked if they could work with them to add what they think it needs to make the difference they want to see in the world?