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February 2011

Is There an App for That? If Not, Create Your Own App



Apps are the rage these days, and they’re only going to get more popular. According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation, the number of apps downloaded is expected to grow by 60 percent each year through 2014, moving from 10.9 billion downloaded apps worldwide this year to 76.9 billion in 2014.

So what do those numbers mean for you? Consumers are hungry—and only getting hungrier—for apps, and if you have a good concept for a fitness app and develop and market it properly, you could jump into this blossoming market. 

The App Advantage

For Jen Cassetty, personal trainer and wellness consultant in New York City, an iPhone app she created called the Jen Cassetty Fitness App solved the problem of how to work with clients who travel. “Through my app, clients can download videos of exercises they can do in their hotel room or tweet me to receive fitness tips, motivation and proper form and techniques,” she says. “It’s an easy way to get instant feedback and help them keep up with their training when they’re not with me.”

Cassetty isn’t reaching only her own clientele, though. In just seven months, more than 1,200 people downloaded her app, including many from outside her client base. In the spring, it will be available to even more people when she introduces it for Android and Blackberry users.

Smartphone Operating Systems

As an aside, there are several different smartphone operating systems, including ones for the iPhone, Google’s Android, and the Blackberry, which means you need to create a separate app for each operating system, says Gard Mayer, founder of Smart Training Systems, a company that’s developed a video-based Web and mobile fitness app called the Daily Workout. However, once you create an app for one operating system, it becomes easier to create that same app for other operating systems.

The expansive reach of apps is one reason Kathy Smith, a world-renowned fitness professional who has created numerous best-selling DVDs, has joined the crowd. Recently, Smith launched Kathy Smith Daily Workout for iPhone and iPad users, which offers exercise programs and motivational tips. “It’s a great way to reach a large audience,” she says. “If you have the right app, you can impact people around the world.”

Like Cassetty, Smith also believes that apps could increase client retention. “Rather than writing out exercise programs for clients on the days you’re not with them, the app makes it seem as if you’re right there, which could make it easier for clients to meet their goals,” she says.

That’s certainly something that appealed to Lisa V. Bunce, M.S., R.D., a dietitian in Redding, Conn., who introduced an app called Mylil’coach that helps individuals change their behaviors and follow basic guidelines for healthy living. Through her app, clients receive gentle reminders throughout the day to drink a glass of water, slow down when eating or take a 15-minute walk. The app also has a built-in pedometer, which not only track steps, but also sends them to a healthcare provider daily, weekly or monthly. “The biggest benefit is compliance,” Bunce says, adding that she’s also been able to team up with personal trainers who are offering this app to their clients. “Clients often tell me I’m in their head constantly, and because of that, the app has helped them change their behaviors.”

Considering the Cons

While they might sound cool, though, apps don’t come without a downside, namely cost and market saturation. Mayer estimates that the cost to develop one app could range anywhere from the low five figures all the way to six figures, depending on the complexity of the app and numerous other factors.

Bunce, for instance, forked out $10,000 to develop Mylil’coach and says she never expected this to be a moneymaker. “My initial motivation for doing this was to help my clients reach their goals,” she says. Yet she’s optimistic that if she can continue to spread the word about her app, it can become a secondary income source for her, especially since she’s now working on other apps. 

Yet it’s not just the money you’ll spend creating the app, it’s also getting the word out about the app, and with more than 300,000 iPhone apps and more than 100,000 Android apps on the market now, breaking through the clutter may prove difficult, if not impossible. “While there is potential to make money through apps, you can’t just put your app in a store and hope people will buy it,” says Craig Schlossberg, co-founder of PumpOne, a company that creates portable personal-training solutions for mobile devices.

It goes without saying that to break through that clutter, your idea has to be unique, which is also a tough task. “It needs to provide something different than what every other fitness-based app offers,” Mayer says.

And while it does help if you’re a brand or a well-known studio or have celebrity status in the fitness world, it’s just as important to have a serious marketing plan in place. “You’ve got to treat an app like a product launch,” Schlossberg says. “You need Twitter, a Facebook following, Web support and branded marketing, and you need more than 200 of your best friends who will buy it.”  That may not sound terribly difficult until you realize that all of this will take time away from doing what you really want to do:  training clients.

Taking the Plunge Into the App Market

Still interested in creating an app? Fortunately, you don’t have to know much about technology to make this happen. “You can hire an app developer to take your content and turn it into an app,” Mayer says.

Just do your homework when considering which app developer to use. Ask questions about apps they’ve already produced, and consider the design and functionality of their apps, understanding that health and fitness apps need to be designed in a specific way to effectively communicate your content to your end user, Mayer says. Once you’ve located an app developer, development time generally takes anywhere from one to four months.

There is, though, another option, especially if you don’t want to invest huge amounts of time and money into an app: pre-packaged apps. Take, for instance, FitnessBuilder PRO, an app created by PumpOne specifically for trainers and fitness studios. The app is available for iPhones, iPads, iPods and Android phones.

For $19.99 per month or $199.99 per year (plus $9.99 to download the app), PumpOne will tailor this app for your clients. You send a hi-res image of your logo, which PumpOne formats to fit the app, and that information appears in the app. You then create custom workouts or use one of the more than 650-plus pre-made workouts, track your clients’ progress, review workout histories and logs, and even receive workout logs as they’re being performed.

The app works off of another PumpOne app for consumers called FitnessBuilder. If your clients are already using FitnessBuilder, you just send information directly to their app. Otherwise, clients who don’t have FitnessBuilder will receive a .PDF. 

“You can create workouts for your clients, especially on days when you’re not training together, and charge for this service,” Schlossberg says. “The response from this product has been incredible, largely because it offers fitness pros an inexpensive app they can customize for their clients.”

This tool can also be especially beneficial if you’re training a group of individuals like athletes, students or corporate teams. From your e-mail, you can send one workout to hundreds, even thousands, of individuals. “From one e-mail with one app, you can reach thousands of clients,” Schlossberg says. 

Even if you don’t launch your own app now, at least get savvy about what this technology is all about. “This is just the beginning,” Smith says. “What we can do with these apps is going to grow tremendously over the next few years, and by knowing the basics, you can make sure you’re not left behind.”



Karen Asp, freelance journalist and ACE-certified Fitness Professional, is a contributing editor for Woman’s Day and the Fit Travel columnist for AOL. She also writes regularly for numerous other publications, including Self, Fitness, Women’s Health, Better Homes and Gardens, Real Simple, Prevention, Runner’s World, Redbook and Men’s Fitness.


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