Mobile Activity Apps – It’s a Gold Rush

Weight Watchers recently announced a 16% decrease in second quarter earnings. Their stock price is down nearly 20%. Their CFO’s explanation? “We feel some of that is driven by the continued sudden explosion of interest in free apps and activity monitors.”

Ya think?

The irony is that the goal of Weight Watchers and many of the mobile app developers is identical:  To get people to eat sensibly and exercise regularly. But in some ways, Weight Watchers appears to have been emulating the slow-moving, over-laden people they’ve been catering to since 1963. Weight Watchers has been figuratively sitting on the couch when they should have been actively identifying and figuring out ways to run as fast (or faster) as the new competitors eroding their bottom line.

The competition in this market space is brutal

It’s particularly lamentable to a marketer like me. Weight Watchers has name recognition and a reputation for effectiveness that nearly every mobile activity monitor start-up would kill for. Heck, with 2012 revenues of $1.8 billion, it seems reasonable that they should be among the strongest market leaders in this space. Weight Watchers does, of course, have a mobile application and it appears to address the main parameters important to Weight Watchers subscribers (such as “nearest weight watchers meeting”). But compare the number of Weight Watchers subscribers (approximately 763,000) with, say, mobile activity app MyFitnessPal, with over 40 million users.

I don’t mean to single out Weight Watchers. The competition in this market space is brutal. Product development and marketing costs are prohibitive. New players come in to the field constantly. Consumers are numerous but fickle, and with so many apps being free or nearly so, can afford to be.

Still, the lure of an exploding market and the attendant potential of huge sales and profits keeps the players in the game. Established fitness-associated companies (such as Weight Watchers and Nike, for example) need to capitalize on their powerful reputations and produce mobile apps consistent with their brand standards. Startups will rely on unique insight and innovation. This is a Gold Rush. There will be big winners and big losers. But Gold Rushes don’t last forever.


Posted in: Digital Health, Health 2.0, Healthcare Marketing, Marketing Medical Devices, Medical Device Marketing, Medical Devices, mHealth, Patients as Healthcare Consumers

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mHealth Shouldn’t Wait for Government Guidelines That Won’t Be Clarified For Years

Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius

Recently, Bradley Merril Thompson, a representative of the mHealth Regulatory Coalition (MRC), wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking the FDA to issue final guidance over mobile health application regulation, “as soon as reasonably possible.”

While it’s tempting to make a snarky remark about the government’s versus the private sector’s definition of “as soon as reasonably possible,” I’ll refrain and state simply that the FDA’s glacial response on this one may have led to slowing of development and investment in mobile health.

Interestingly, Mr. Thompson adds, “Some people mistakenly believe that the final guidance will expand FDA jurisdiction. It will not.”

I’m not so certain. I think the level of direct FDA involvement and regulation will come about largely in reaction to how the industry at large interprets and acts upon the guidelines. That’s as it should be. Let the marketplace determine the viability of mobile health products, with a prudent approach that acknowledges the FDA’s responsibility to safeguard public health. I fully expect that, after the guidelines are released, there will be a formative period where entrepreneurs and the government will work – as partners and sometimes as adversaries – to better define what’s best for the market and for consumers.

I believe that’s the attitude that should be guiding the industry today, while it waits (and waits) for FDA guidance. No business venture is without risk, but the companies that are willing to advance now, confident that their products are safe and effective, are much more likely to prosper and establish market presence than those who continue to wait.


Posted in: Digital Health, Health 2.0, Healthcare Marketing, Home Healthcare, Marketing Medical Devices, Medical Device Marketing, Medical Devices, mHealth, Uncategorized

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