Since 2001, Netpulse has been moving the fitness industry forward. It all started with smart fitness machines, then came the first white-label mobile app for gyms and finally, connecting the whole fitness floor via the Cloud. Star team accompanied Netpulse on this journey, taking care of the product ideation, design, development and go-to-market planning.
Of course, an innovator like Netpulse can’t afford to rest on their laurels. So we asked ourselves, “What can we do to take gym members experience to the next level? How can we improve the core user flow to deliver more value?” The answer was right there, on our wrists: Apple Watch, the device that currently controls a massive 46% of the smartwatch market, with 79% of owners using fitness apps.
Extending the Netpulse app to Apple Watch might seem like an easy task. Just take all the most popular features and turn them into a “wearable” UI, right? Yes, and… no.
- Users demand the simplicity of the Apple Watch, while still wanting to access the robust Netpulse product.
- The fitness market is very competitive, so it is hard to drive continuous app adoption. We can’t afford to deliver “yet another app” – it has to be unique.
- Gyms expect full freedom in branding and feature configuration from Netpulse.
- Users want the app to be super-fast, smooth and reliable. Oh, and they don’t want to carry their iPhone in the gym.
- Netpulse serves a variety of gyms – from small yoga studios to large 1000-gym chains; the app has to work for all of them.
To meet these challenges, we needed an approach that hinged on three key principles: collaboration, customer focus and innovation.
Assembling a fitness technology dream team
Collaboration was crucial if we wanted to tackle the challenges mentioned above, and get a world-class product to market. This dictated the unusual approach of using an extended stakeholder pool. Netpulse assembled a customer committee, aka “Mobile Consortium”, which was a group of forward-thinking health club organizations brought together with the purpose of building game-changing technology solutions. The Consortium provided subject matter expertise, had a say on prioritization and could submit ideas. In return, committee members received early access to the Apple Watch app.
Apple’s Watch Health team joined the group as well, contributing invaluable knowledge and guidance on all things Apple-related: from design guidelines to technical consultations and solutions review.
Understanding a diversified user base
The next principle we followed was customer focus. We designed the Apple Watch app to have a variety of configuration and branding options. This means each health club can pick the menu colors and turn on/off specific app features for their members. For example, a pilates studio can pick Check-in / Classes / Feedback as their menu options, while traditional gyms can go for a Training Plan / Exercise Tracking / Challenges combination. For users, this flexibility means they only get the most relevant app features on their Apple Watch, and won’t get overloaded.
Another aspect of customer focus involved understanding user preferences and contexts of use. By speaking with users, we were able to gain useful insights and identify key features and user needs. For example, we made the app as autonomous as possible and ensured it keeps working without an iPhone in reach, or when the internet connection is unstable (good WiFi is still a luxury in gyms). Our user conversations also revealed that one of the main user fears is training data being lost or incomplete. We invested in smart logics to make sure every exercise is saved, no matter what.
Users also appreciated the option to manage their soundtracks on Apple Watch while exercising (surprisingly, there are popular fitness apps like Strava that don’t allow it). This is how the “Now Playing” feature appeared in the Netpulse app, alongside Training and Exercise Tracking.
Providing an extraordinary, multi-platform fitness experience
Finally, the Apple Watch app is an innovation and Netpulse platform evolution driver. This dictated using the latest and greatest Apple best practices and focusing on product integrity. The Star team worked within the platform’s guidelines for wearable apps, making sure the user experience is legible, concise, timely and personal. We were also able to leverage the new WatchOS capabilities to provide a superior user experience, which includes live workout tracking, smart Siri shortcuts and interactive push notifications.
The Apple Watch app is not a separate shiny object, but an integrated part of a large Netpulse platform. This means users can enjoy an upgraded experience on their iPhone as well! Gym members who close their rings on Apple Watch will get rewarded with loyalty points, and compete in the new activity challenges. Two-way integration with Apple Health allows users to keep all their activity in one place, no matter how they tracked it – on their iPhone, AppleWatch, another activity tracking app or a fitness machine. The Wallet app is also connected to the Apple Watch app, making gym members check-in truly seamless. Their membership card pops up automatically as they approach one of their favorite fitness clubs. Ain’t it magic?
How we did it
In a nutshell, we followed an iterative process:
We kicked-off the research phase by looking at best practices for creating Apple Watch apps. Next, we identified best-practice examples of Apple Watch apps in various industries (not only fitness and health) by exploring specialized catalogs, such as Watchaware, and general ones, like Product Hunt. We were looking for examples of UX flows and UI interactions that delighted users and we analyzed a lot of user feedback on app functionality and design. Finally, we analyzed a lot of internal data points, such as the most-used features by gyms and gym members on the Netpulse platform, broken down by frequency and context of usage, support requests and AppStore comments.
Ideation & Validation
Based on our initial research, our product team created a pool of “what ifs”, areas where we could disrupt the status quo and dramatically improve user experience in and out of the gym. Here are some examples:
- What if…members could access all club facilities with just their Apple Watch?
- What if…members could follow their training plan without using their phone on the gym floor?
- What if…members could see the best-suited classes and book them in one click?
- What if…members’ Apple Watch motivated them to go the extra mile?
Since the Apple Watch app is a part of a broader Netpulse ecosystem, we were looking for ways to ensure product integrity. To do this, we used the User Journey Mapping technique to lay out all the use cases on the user journey backbone, and Backbone prototyping to validate our design with users and gather their feedback.
We then reviewed these deliverables with our Customer committee and the Apple Health team, creating a solid foundation for in-depth feature development.
At this stage, we extended our initial backbone prototype with in-depth interactions, covering main- and edge cases. We created a collection of UI elements to make all the buttons, menu items and interactions consistent.
In parallel, engineers created a series of POCs to validate the feasibility of Apple Watch-specific features: Siri shortcuts, interactive push notifications, a live exercise tracking module and Apple Wallet integration. We wanted to spot the critical performance issues early in the process, so our application could deliver the speed and reliability required of Apple Watch apps.
Development & Validation
The team worked in iterative mode, delivering functionality in 2-week sprints, followed by demo sessions with all stakeholders, internal and external. After each sprint, we reviewed and prioritized the remaining functionality, focusing on the “committed” scope, and aiming to do as much as possible from a “flexible” scope in a 6-month period.
Polishing & Launch
Our polishing stage started with closed alpha testing, aka “dog-fooding”, where we distributed a couple of app versions to an internal audience consisting of Netpulse employees, Customer committee members, and a limited user group. Their task was to use the app on Apple Watch, and submit feedback on the user experience, bugs and performance issues.
On the UI side, we had a couple of “pixel-perfect” sessions for designers and engineers to sit together and review the app, fixing all the elements that were out of order or inconsistent.
In preparation for the production launch, our product, implementation and customer success teams collaborated on:
- A “Pre-launch” checklist with guidelines on app branding and configuration for different gym concepts, and recommendations to gym admins on app marketing and driving adoption.
- FAQs for gym admins and gym members explaining how the app works, how to connect it with Health and Apple Wallet and other possible questions they might be asked.
And while we don’t want to brag, we thought we would highlight a couple of tiny details we are especially proud of:
- The smart geo-location feature in Wallet which suggests a nearby or favorite club
- Creating visual training elements on a tiny Apple Watch screen (lightweight animations explaining how to perform certain exercises)
- Siri reminds gym members about their upcoming class and suggests a new favorite training plan (thank you for the motivation, our virtual friend!)
- Quick actions in push notifications: users can join a class, challenge or give feedback in one tap, no need to browse the app.
We are live now, and the first results are in!
- 86m clicks through the news link about Apple Watch App release on more than 276 outlets in 2 days (including Yahoo, Finance, International Business, etc.)
- User adoption is 65% of all iOS users who installed the Apple watch app
- First 2 pilot gym chains went live, ~5k Apple Watch app users in the first month, +15% growth of MAU since launch
Users rate the app at 5 stars and say:
“So Convenient! Love this app! Happy it now on my Apple Watch, so I can leave my phone in a locker and fully concentrate on working out.”
“Great app! I like this app and workouts tracking style, I can easily plan my workout on mobile and just follow it at the Gym. I also greatly appreciate the variety of workout plans available.”
“Quick access to the Gym! With the new Apple Watch update, I can check-in at the club just instantly.”
“More activities to track! Cool update. I can now track a lot more gym specific activities with my Apple Watch.”