Features and Components Preferred by Adolescents in Smartphone Apps for the Promotion of Physical Activity: Focus Group Study

Alex Domin*, Yacine Ouzzahra, Claus Vögele

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: There is solid evidence that lack of physical activity (PA) is a risk factor for chronic diseases. Sufficient levels of PA in childhood and adolescence are particularly important, as they can set the standards for PA levels in adulthood. The latest reports show that only a small percentage of adolescents reach the recommended levels of PA in European Union countries at the age of 15 years. In view of the scale of the problem, it is crucial to develop interventions that promote and support PA in adolescents. Considering their low implementation costs and ubiquitous presence, smartphone apps could be advantageous as a part of PA interventions. Objective: This study aimed at investigating the attitudes and preferences of adolescents aged 16-18 years toward various PA app features and components that could (1) make the app more attractive for them and consequently (2) increase their interest and engagement with the app. Methods: Two separate focus group discussions were conducted in 2 groups of adolescents (n=4 each) aged 16-18 years. Focus groups were carried out online via video conference. The discussions were conducted using a semistructured interview. Participants (n=8; 4 males and 4 females) had a mean age of 17.25 years (SD 0.82 years). Transcripts were analyzed following the approach by Krueger and Casey, that is, categorizing participants’ answers and comments according to the questions and themes from the focus group schedule. Results: Features, such as “goal setting and planning,” “coaching and training programs,” “activity tracking,” “feedback,” and “location tracking” were appraised as attractive, motivating, and interesting. An “automatic activity recognition” feature was perceived as useful only under the condition that its precision was high. The “reminders” component was also deemed as useful only if a range of conditions was fulfilled (timeliness, opportunity for customization, etc). The features “mood and sleep tracking,” “sharing workout results via social networks,” “digital avatar and coach,” and “rewards” were generally perceived negatively and considered as useless and not motivating. In general, participants preferred features with an easy-to-navigate interface and a clear, simplistic, and straightforward layout with a modern design. Customization and personalization qualities were highly appreciated throughout an app, together with data precision. Conclusions: This study contributes to the understanding of the features and components preferred by adolescents in apps promoting PA. Such apps should provide users with precise data, and have a simplistic modern design and a straightforward easy-to-use interface. Apps should be personalized and customizable. Desired features to be included in an app are goal setting and planning, feedback, coaching and training programs, and activity tracking. The features should involve high levels of data precision and timely delivery while taking into consideration the real-life context.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere33972
JournalJMIR Human Factors
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • adolescents
  • behavior change
  • focus groups
  • health
  • mHealth
  • mobile health
  • mobile phone
  • physical activity
  • qualitative research
  • smartphone apps


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