Analysis of the features important for the effectiveness of physical activity–related apps for recreational sports: Expert panel approach

Joan Dallinga, Mark Janssen, Jet Van Der Werf, Ruben Walravens, Steven Vos, Marije Deutekom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: A large number of people participate in individual or unorganized sports on a recreational level. Furthermore, many participants drop out because of injury or lowered motivation. Potentially, physical activity–related apps could motivate people during sport participation and help them to follow and maintain a healthy active lifestyle. It remains unclear what the quality of running, cycling, and walking apps is and how it can be assessed. Quality of these apps was defined as having a positive influence on participation in recreational sports. This information will show which features need to be assessed when rating physical activity–related app quality. Objective: The aim of this study was to identify expert perception on which features are important for the effectiveness of physical activity–related apps for participation in individual, recreational sports. Methods: Data were gathered via an expert panel approach using the nominal group technique. Two expert panels were organized to identify and rank app features relevant for sport participation. Experts were researchers or professionals in the field of industrial design and information technology (technology expert panel) and in the field of behavior change, health, and human movement sciences who had affinity with physical activity–related apps (health science expert panel). Of the 24 experts who were approached, 11 (46%) agreed to participate. Each panel session consisted of three consultation rounds. The 10 most important features per expert were collected. We calculated the frequency of the top 10 features and the mean importance score per feature (0-100). The sessions were taped and transcribed verbatim; a thematic analysis was conducted on the qualitative data. Results: In the technology expert panel, applied feedback and feedforward (91.3) and fun (91.3) were found most important (scale 0-100). Together with flexibility and look and feel, these features were mentioned most often (all n=4 [number of experts]; importance scores=41.3 and 43.8, respectively). The experts in the health science expert panels a and b found instructional feedback (95.0), motivating or challenging (95.0), peer rating and use (92.0), motivating feedback (91.3), and monitoring or statistics (91.0) most important. Most often ranked features were monitoring or statistics, motivating feedback, works good technically, tailoring starting point, fun, usability anticipating or context awareness, and privacy (all n=3-4 [number of experts]; importance scores=16.7-95.0). The qualitative analysis resulted in four overarching themes: (1) combination behavior change, technical, and design features needed; (2) extended feedback and tailoring is advised; (3) theoretical or evidence base as standard; and (4) entry requirements related to app use. Conclusions: The results show that a variety of features, including design, technical, and behavior change, are considered important for the effectiveness of physical activity–related apps by experts from different fields of expertise. These insights may assist in the development of an improved app rating scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere143
Number of pages12
JournalJMIR Mhealth and Uhealth
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2018


  • Exercise
  • Features
  • Health behavior
  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Measures
  • MHealth
  • Mobile applications


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