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  • Elena Talavera

The What, Why, and How of Self-Improvement Apps

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

Throughout our existence, human nature has been characterized by incessant desires, impulses, and predisposition to achieve well-being. Together with our innate motivation and tendency to feel good, the human being has made use of the modification of the environment to favor this end. Technology has been responsible for humanity's transformation in a natural response to our efforts to live better and feel well.

In our current era, which is characterized by the rapid development of technology, the use of self-improvement mobile apps is extensively growing, accentuating its development after the pandemic. Only in the USA, its market size was valued at $40.05B last year and it is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.7% from 2021 to 2028 (Grand View Research, 2021). These are software programs that run on smartphones and other wireless devices, and which focus on promoting self-improvement and well-being among users. This is usually achieved through different mechanisms such as goal setting, self-monitoring, reporting, or receiving feedback among others in order to support and promote behavior change towards positive habits formation (i.e., eat healthier or exercise more).

Apart from the benefits of portability, immediacy, and accessibility, there are several reasons behind the popularity of these applications:

  • Firstly, these apps present an immediate, quick, and cost-effective way of data gathering. This data can be collected through self-assessment or through the smartphone's own intelligence, which would not require the user to input any data.

  • Secondly, thanks to the great amount of information gathered, these applications are able to adapt and offer personalized solutions to the users, which favors its efficiency and efficacy.

  • Thirdly and linked to the previous point, the interventions offered are highly user-focused and can keep constantly adapting and modifying to help individuals achieve their goals. This can be done through cutting-edge technologies and mechanisms founded on artificial intelligence and machine learning mainly.

  • Finally, these apps present a persuasive design and engaging mechanisms (i.e., gamification, social comparison, or social proof), which promotes engagement among users and favor their resolutions.

Besides all these advantages, many studies and research agree on the importance of developing scientific-based mechanisms to ensure the efficiency of these applications and reduce risks (Alyami et al., 2017; Marshall et al., 2019; Schultchen et al., 2020). By incorporating research into practice, app developers and researchers make use of research-driven evidence -rather than rely solely on personal experience or opinion-leading thoughts- to make decisions and judgments based on empirical evidence and reduce their own bias. Furthermore, evidence-based apps encompass both scientific evidence developed by Universities and relevant research centers, but also their own evidence through their internal databases and tendencies found among their users, which provide the teams with a great and valuable amount of data that can be continuously analyzed to amend and modify the software in order to achieve the best outcome. As a result, evidence-based apps are associated with higher quality, increased reliability, and more accountability.

For more practical information on what a self-improvement app is, how it works, and the scientific principles behind it, feel free to visit our about and how it works sections on our website to learn more about StepApp.


Alyami, M., Giri, B., Alyami, H., Sundrum, F. (2017). Social anxiety apps: a systematic review and assessment of app descriptors across mobile store platforms. Evidence-Based Mental Health, 20(3), 65–70.

Grand View Research (2021). mHealth Apps Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis.

Marshall, J.M., Dunstan, D.A., & Bartik, W. (2019). The Digital Psychiatrist: In Search of Evidence-Based Apps for Anxiety and Depression. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10(831).

Schultchen, D., Terhorst, Y., Holderied, T. et al. (2020). Stay Present with Your Phone: A Systematic Review and Standardized Rating of Mindfulness Apps in European App Stores. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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