JMIR Publications

JMIR mHealth and uHealth


Currently submitted to: JMIR mHealth and uHealth

Date Submitted: Oct 5, 2017
Open Peer Review Period: Oct 5, 2017 - Nov 30, 2017

NOTE: This is an unreviewed Preprint

Peer-Review Me

What is the quality of publicly available physical activity apps? A review and content analysis

  • Paulina Bondaronek; 
  • Ghadah Alkhaldi; 
  • April Slee; 
  • Fiona Hamilton; 
  • Elizabeth Murray



Within the new digital health landscape, the rise of health apps creates novel prospects for health promotion. The market is saturated with apps that aim to increase physical activity (PA). Despite the wide distribution and popularity of PA apps, there are limited data on their effectiveness, user experience, and safety of personal data.


The purpose of this review and content analysis was to evaluate the quality of the most popular PA apps on the market using healthcare quality indicators.


The top-ranked 400 free and paid apps from iTunes and Google Play stores were screened. Apps were included if the primary behavior targeted was PA; targeted users were adults; the apps had stand-alone functionality. The apps were downloaded on mobile phones and assessed by two reviewers against the following quality assessment criteria: 1) users’ data privacy and security, 2) presence of Behavioral Change Techniques (BCTs) and quality of the development and evaluation processes, and 3) user ratings and usability.


Out of 400 apps, 156 met the inclusion criteria and 65 apps were randomly selected to be downloaded and assessed. Almost 30% apps (19 out of 65) do not have privacy policy. Every app contained at least 1 BCT, with an average number of 7, and a maximum of 13 BCTs. All but 1 app had commercial affiliation, 12 consulted an expert and none reported involving users in the app development. Only 12 of 65 apps had a peer-reviewed study connected to the app. User ratings were high with only a quarter of the ratings falling below 4 stars. The median usability score was “excellent”: 86.3 of out 100 possible.


Despite the popularity of PA apps available on the commercial market, there were substantial shortcomings in the areas of data safety and likelihood of effectiveness of the apps assessed. The limited quality of the apps may represent a missed opportunity for PA promotion.