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District Health top 5: Top tips for app developers from the KTN

Colby Benari : October 4, 2014 10:47 am : Article

At a recent District Health event, Sue Dunkerton, Director of The Knowledge Transfer Network, spoke about her role in inspiring innovation in a wide range of businesses, including health tech. In this article she shares some top tips for app developers working in health and behaviour change.


  1. Know your user and question your assumptions.

Don’t just rely on your intuition and assumptions about how your chosen demographic behave. For example, the over 65s have a reputation for tech aversion, but is it based on fact? In reality, mobile uptake amongst the older generation is growing. Ageing and assisted living are priority areas for the Knowledge Transfer Network and Innovate UK because it is clear that we are facing tremendous challenges and opportunities due to an ageing global population.


  1. Know the market.

Knowing where money is spent now will show you where investments might be targeted to increase productivity or reduce costs. Chronic diseases, which often require some self management – account for 75-85% of global healthcare spending.


  1. Know your limits as a developer and/or business founder.

The desire to embed research data in your app is a good instinct. There are institutions (such as the Farr Institute) that can help you to make sense of research information to make your product more effective. You might be interested in going to the Farr Institute’s first international conference in August 2015.


  1. Don’t stop at developing your app. Think about how to create sustained use.

Implementation and uptake of your app isn’t just about sales. Getting people to use your app on a regular and sustained basis is important to realise a benefit to public health. Understand how and why people use health apps and you will be a step closer.


  1. Connect to IC Tomorrow to capture funding opportunities.

IC Tomorrow runs regular funding contests, which are focused on various priority areas. Funding in the region of £25-35k can help your business get a new product off the ground. These are big enough pots of money to make real progress in developing your app.

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Incubating innovation – learning from the world of sport

Colby Benari : September 14, 2014 9:22 am : Article

With so much money and planning going into innovation it is easy to forget the old truism that necessity is the mother of all inventions.

Incubating innovation - learning from the world of sport 2So much is being made of the need to create spaces and projects to nurture innovation. Since the explosion in smartphone use, app culture has erupted and spread over to Europe. The Silicon Valley model has been emulated in the UK – from Fen roundabout in Cambridge, to the Silicon Roundabout in east London, to Croydon, the latest tech hot house.

In a recent article Ed Smith, New Statesmen columnist, shows that some of the major changes in sport came about because individual players, often mavericks, needed to finds solution to a specific problem.

He tests out a hypothesis of a new book, The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley, that challenges the idea that the scientific method leads to innovation:

It is invention that leads to science. In the Industrial Revolution, the jennies and looms that transformed cotton-spinning were invented by tinkering businessmen, by ‘hard heads and clever fingers’, rather than by conceptual thinkers.

Smith, a former England cricketer turned author, shows how sports as diverse as cricket, baseball and football all owe the major changes to the actions of individuals – often against their best advisors.

In athletics, coaches initially tried to dissuade a restless high jumper from major innovation before the 1968 Olympics. He wanted to jump over the bar face up, back down – something no one had done before. The new technique was considered strange and ungainly. He did it anyway, winning the gold medal in Mexico and breaking the world record. Dick Fosbury had just invented the ‘Fosbury Flop’. It quickly became the standard technique.

His conclusion can easily be applied to developing apps for health solutions:

Sport is about problem-solving. A challenge is set: hit the ball over the boundary; jump over the bar. From then on, solutions evolve, sometimes deliberately, sometimes by accident … That is why innovation owes more to environment than directed planning. Sporting cultures open to change, innovation and risk will find the back of the net more often.

It reminds us that while having the infrastructure and institutional support seems like the correct way to promote innovative thinking, it should not overshadow the individual spirit of innovation.


Interested in apps, health and behaviour change? The next District Health event is being held on 18 September at 19:00 in Central London. 

Incubating innovation - learning from the world of sport 1


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Building accessibility into your mobile app

District Health Articles : September 3, 2013 6:16 pm : Article

Mobile health apps should be accessible to as wide an audience as possible. That means including accessibility features at the earliest stages of app design. Last year the One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition published a report, which recommends just such a step. Moving together: mobile apps for inclusion and assistance contains a wealth of information about accessibility in app design.

“As with the web, it is vital to build accessibility in from the earliest stages of the design process for a mobile device or app. Accessibility features that are built in by the manufacturer of a mobile device, mobile operating system or app are preferable to optional extras or workarounds added later by a struggling user,” the report states.

Levels of app accessibility vary greatly according to the report, often for the same app across different platforms.

Mobile app accessibility – nuts and bolts

The report also contains a useful “The nuts and bolts: operating systems and basic tools” section, listing the various built-in accessibility features in each OS.

Moving Together also has a dedicated section for app developers with details of specific challenges and best practice for organisations.

The main problem for developing accessible mobile apps is the proliferation of platforms and the fact that the app might have to be tailored for each, the report notes. “The easiest way for an organisation creating an app to ensure it is accessible is to build accessibility into the decision-making processes from top to bottom. This means that many different types of people in an organisation need to be aware of at least the basics of accessibility.”

Seven steps to accessible mobile apps

To help developers integrate accessibility into their apps the report suggests a seven-step process. These include understanding and maintaining an on-going dialogue with users with disability not only at the design stage but throughout the life of the product.

Seven Steps to Accessible Mobile Apps

  1. Learn about accessibility.
  2. Quick accessibility check.
  3. Publish an Accessibility Statement.
  4. Provide a Contact Us function.
  5. Ensure reading sequence is logical and comprehensible.
  6. Create a user interface that is easy to understand and operate.
  7. Ensure text formatting can be altered.

Keeping it simple is key. As is relying on standard conventions as much as possible and using a text size that is readable.

We conclude with the words of the authors:

“These seven steps should significantly improve the accessibility of most apps, but they are only the first few steps to good accessibility practice. Use them to start your journey, and keep going!”

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Size of health app market in Great Britain

Colby Benari : September 1, 2013 9:51 am : Article

Health apps are part of the explosion in app growth over the past three years. But how big a part of that market are they?

A very useful indicator of market share is Priori’s monthly AppMarket Report, which measures the top 150 apps by downloads for four devices: Android, iPad, iPhone and Zune Marketplace devices.

Priori’s rankings are based on number of downloads, which differs from app store ranking that may adjust their lists to drive sales or increase visibility. Each Priori report has an FAQ that explains the methodology in detail. “We believe that the primary indicator of an app or publisher’s success remains the number of downloads. Specifically, it is an indicator for the number of times an app was installed on user devices, and therefore of its popularity.”

With that in mind we took a look at download figures for Great Britain published on 9 August covering for the period 8 July – 9 August 2013.

Size of the app market in Great Britain

The total downloads for the period (see graphic below) was a whopping 143.8 million in Great Britain (both free and paid apps). Divide that by the size of the population (63.7 million) and you get about 2.23 apps per person. The split between free and paid apps is a hands down win for free apps with 141 million versus 2.9 million. Although 2.8 million downloads isn’t bad!

Size of the health app market

Health and fitness related apps make up a rather small proportion of the market: about 1.4 million  downloads. That is about 1% of all downloads for the period (free and paid).

Taking a closer look inside that market segment a few things stick out. The first is that within the juggernaut that is the free Android app market there are no health related app downloads (at least not based on Priori’s app classification).  In comparison, free health related apps are split as follows: iPhone 78%, iPad 18% and Windows 4%. See chart below for a visualisation of Priori’s data.

The numbers seem odd. What makes this even less clear is that for Android paid apps, health apps represent 12% of downloads. We asked Priori for clarification and will post an update as soon as we hear from them.

What the data shows very clearly is that Apple leads the health app market share, and iPhone rules the roost. It accounts for 78% of the free app downloads and 60% of paid apps. Put bluntly, the money is in iPhone paid health apps.

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How big is the UK smartphone market?

Colby Benari : August 26, 2013 9:46 pm : Article

Good question. And one every app developer should be asking him or her self.

UK mobile internet access

According to research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published in August 2013, 61% of the adult population in Great Britain uses a mobile device to access the internet. Of these, 53% use a mobile or smartphone, 32% a laptop or tablet computer and 11% an EBook reader or something similar. According to the ONS:

“Access to the Internet using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, from 24% to 53% [of adults in Great Britain].”

Here’s the breakdown by age group:

Internet use on a mobile phone by age group 2010 and 2013 - ONS

[Source: Office for National Statistics]

Note that amongst 16-24 year-olds almost 9 in 10 used a mobile phone to access the internet. Similar figures were observed for the 25-34 and 35-44 year-olds.

UK smartphone market

Given the sizable slice of the internet access pie that mobile phone usage represents, it is interesting to see some projections of growth in the use of smartphones.

Estimates of the growth of the UK smartphone market were published by eMarketer in June 2013. They reckon that this year we will see about 30.9 million smartphone users in the UK, which amount to 48.4% of UK residents and 60.4% of UK mobile phone users.

The number of smartphone users in the UK is forecast to rise to 43.4 million by 2017, which will represent 65.8% of the population and an incredible 80.9% of mobile phone users.

The boring bit, which we kind of know, is that amongst mobile phone users between the ages of 12-54, about 80% use a smartphone today, and it is estimated that their smartphone usage will  reach saturation by 2017.

The interesting bits lie at either end of the bell curve. In the age group 0-11 smartphone usage  will almost double from 45.1% in 2013 to 72.4% in 2017.

But, and this truly is staggering, in the age group 55-64 usage will grow from 37% to 68% in 2017. A burgeoning market which in 2011 represented a mere 15% of the total population in that age group.

As for the 65+ group smartphone takeup is estimated to rise from 13% to 41% in 2017. Remember that these are the tail end of the baby boomers who are living longer and still have plenty of disposable income and, according to recent TUC research, is remaining in work past retirement age.

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