Apps: Nike Training Club: More Function, Less Yoga

Nike unveils new iPhone and iPod app for women

MobileFocus_OM_0311Nike and its agency, AKQA, took a good, hard look at what women want in an app before coming up with a radically revamped version of the Nike Training Club app for women. Released for the iPhone and iPod on Jan. 1, the app is designed to be streamlined, sophisticated and useful - with an emphasis on the useful. In essence, more functionality and less yoga. 

Similar to its popular Nike+ app for runners, the revamped women's training program is billed as a "personal trainer in your pocket." Its launch was timed to coincide with New Year's resolutions about losing weight. The idea clicked with users; within a few weeks of its U.S. launch, the app became the most downloaded free health and fitness app in the iTunes store, with 98 ratings and four-and-a-half stars. (No. 2 was the Weight Watchers app with more than four times as many ratings, but only three stars.) On New Year's Day, when the app was promoted on Nike's Facebook page, it quickly got more than 120 comments, most positive, and many asking for the app to be offered on Android devices. However, by mid-January, there were no immediate plans to offer an Android version.

When AKQA's London team took on the task of upgrading the two-year-old training app last year, they wanted to tap new technologies and reflect on how the target audience is using mobile apps. What they learned from their research led to a complete redesign, new program series, new interface, new user journey and new code.

"The user base is growing all the time as more people get iPhones and are being introduced to 'app' culture as part of their lives," says Daniel Bonner, AKQA's European chief creative officer. As apps become more mainstream, much of the gee-whiz novelty has worn off. "We now see function, utility and true products and services becoming more important to the audience than gimmick-based apps. Gimmicks have a reduced shelf life."

As a result, the agency's key challenge was to strip out any features that were not necessary and design the program to be as simple as possible. "We knew the interface should become invisible, intuitive and something that can be used time and time again with ease and with speed," says Bonner. "Overdesigned app interfaces can be too complicated and clumsy."

More specifically, Nike's research also showed that most of its target audience was doing exercise in the gym with their own music. To address that habit, the app supplies an audio guide that you can listen to while you are training and is synced with your own music library.

Nike also discovered that its target craved motivation, not only to start an exercise program, but also to keep it going. As a result, the app introduced a rewards system that ties to social media. Every workout completed is rewarded with a time stamp that you can share with friends in Facebook. You also earn badges for minutes clocked working out with the training app. Each time a badge is unlocked you get an email with a professional trainer's tips and suggested alternative workouts. At certain milestones, you get bonus content, such as exclusive workouts by Hollywood trainer Jeanette Jenkins and a pre-match routine by tennis ace Maria Sharapova.

Visually, the original app was decorated with bright colors and cartoon graphics. It connected you to a branded Web site where you could track your progress and see where you rank in relation to other members of the training club. The overall tone was playful and lighthearted.

In contrast, the new version is all business. The redesigned app begins with large black words on a white background listing four goals: "Get lean; Get toned; Get strong; Get focused." Once your goal is established, it turns to your level, with similar terse language and large type: "Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced." It then picks among more than 90 drills to give you a customized short list of recommended workouts. You can access step-by-step instructions and video demonstrations for every drill at any time.

The app is strongly tied to Nike Women's overarching "Make Yourself" campaign, says Victoria Rizvi, AKQA account director. The brand's position is that fitness and exercise help empower females to be in control of their bodies and lives. This app "fits that vision by being tailored to every level and ability" and by providing women with tools to get fit and "further their journey to fall in love with sport," she says.

Experts agree that app users are getting increasingly impatient with programs that are slow or clumsy. Overblown visuals and confusing navigation are common problems, they say. That helps explain why many apps are being downloaded, used once or twice and then deleted from phones. According to Gartner, most people will use no more than five mobile applications at a time, and niche "killer applications" have the most chance of success in the marketplace.

Nike's training app probably won't be limited to the iPhone - or even smartphones - for long. Industry insiders point to the app potentially being used in gyms and other public venues and on different platforms. A year-end report by Mobclix, an iPhone analytics firm, suggests such useful apps may expand to TVs, such as Google TV and Apple TV; Web browsers, like the Google Chrome Web Store; and Blu-ray players.

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