donderdag 28 mei 2020

Sports app use during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in Flanders, Belgium

Last week, an article on the Belgian sports news channel Sporza (here & here) reported on the increase in sports app use in Belgium, using data collected with our MobileDNA app (info &  join the study). More specifically, we looked at the use of the social fitness app 'Strava' and saw that in comparison to the same period in 2019, Strava use increased substantially in our sample. While Belgium is experiencing an unusually dry and warm spring, the increase in Strava use was clearly not solely due people exercising more because of the warmer weather. In follow-up to the study of the Strava data, we decided to look at the use of a few other sports apps as well:
  • Garmin Connect: dedicated app for Garmin devices
  • Polar Flow: dedicated app for Polar devices
  • Start2run: paid running app for beginners
  • Runtastic: exercising app
  • RunKeeper: exercising app
The figure below shows the app use for each of these apps, comparing 2019 with 2020 for February 1st until April 30th (note: figure shows actual datapoints with GAM smoothing spline + 95% confidence intervals). Note that the figure shows the proportion of MobileDNA loggers who used a given application on the dates indicated on the X-axis. This usage can be a number of things: logging a cycling, running,... or other types of workout, but also checking their profile page or timeline (when applicable), checking activities performed by others on their friends list (when applicable), giving likes or comments (when applicable)... Therefore, the data should not be solely interpreted as the specific tracking of exercising activities (although that will be the case to a certain extent), but more generally the use of the app. 

What can we conclude from the plot? First of all, it seems that the daily app use of Strava, RunKeeper, Runtastic and Start2Run increased during the lockdown (note: the number of Runtastic and Start2Run users in our panel is low, so we have to be cautious when interpreting their curves). All of these apps are designed to track exercising activities without need for a dedicated wearable or fitness tracker. The first three don't require subscription for the basic version. Start2Run is a paid service. 

For Garmin Connect and Polar Flow, this increase it not as noticeable, even though both companies notice longer and more activities by their users during the lockdown (Polar - Garmin) . The use of the latter two however, is strongly related to the ownership of either a Garmin or Polar wearable device. It could be that our data mainly reflects the app use of those who already owned either a Polar or Garmin wearable at the start of the lockdown (which may not differ substantially from last year, especially when they were already training at a high frequency). Especially for Polar we have to note the small proportion of users in our dataset, which makes it more difficult to draw conclusions. I do assume that both companies (and other wearable manufacturers) may benefit from the increase in the use of sports apps like Strava of RunKeeper. After all, if (hopefully) people enjoy their new experience of running, cycling or other exercising activities, and they decide to keep up their new habit, the purchase of a wearable device is not unlikely. 

And the winner is... Strava? From the plot above, it is clear that Strava experienced a significant increase in use during the lockdown. To me, this comes as no surprise given its focus on creating dedicated social network for (recreational) athletes (see my other blogposts or thesis). Especially during the lockdown, it was a perfect platform to record physical activities and maybe more importantly, to share them with others, with whom our physical contact (including running or cycling together) was limited. Strava, more than any other sports app, has been a leader on this aspect. Given that this element remains free, I expect no major impact of the new paid subscription plan Strava introduced recently (read). 

What's next? In the next months, it will be interesting to see the evolution of the daily usage of the sports apps we looked at here. The most important question is whether this 'lockdown effect' will persist or whether we will see a substantial decline again towards what we saw in previous years. After all, new habits are hard to stick to... New blogpost on that will follow in the next weeks/months. 

Feel free to share your thoughts & comments!