Why API's Are Critical to the Future of Fitness

Posted by Brian Hayden with Shapelog

New, digital products aren’t just disrupting traditional fitness companies. They’re making the industry bigger for everybody by blurring the lines between fitness, healthcare, and entertainment. Peloton is worth $1.3B, Fitness Blender has 33 million monthly viewers, and now every fitness company needs a digital strategy. This is good for consumers. As digital products - like apps - become cheaper to build, consumers see better, more personalized offerings.

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This is the second in a two-part series on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). If you missed the first part, “What is an API?”, you can start there for a basic overview on APIs and how they work.

APIs are critical to the future of fitness because they dramatically reduce the cost of developing digital products. You can make a lot of money selling digital products. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to waste a lot of time and money building digital products if you don’t leverage the growing API ecosystem.

Keep these six points in mind as you craft your company’s digital strategy:

  1. Think big. When digital products work, they make customers happy, and are insanely profitable. Scarcity thinking will lead to bad decisions that artificially limit your upside potential.
  2. Digital and physical products complement each other - they don’t compete. The stickiest products exist in both the physical and digital worlds.
  3. You don’t need to hit home runs. Fitness consumer preferences are fragmented and prone to fad - it’s better to embrace and plan for that fact, rather than fight it.
  4. Lowering the cost of creating digital products is the best way to guard against downside risk. Rather than making one big bet, it’s better to make many smaller bets.
  5. Simple apps can be powerful when they sit on a foundation of data - remember when Under Armour bought MyFitnessPal for $475 million?
  6. APIs decrease the cost of developing digital products by cheaply making huge amounts of useful data available for your consumption.

APIs Drive Down the Cost of Product Development

How much does it cost to build a great digital product? It depends.

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APIs provide reusable building blocks that allow you to build sophisticated apps for the price of a simple app. It’s like cheating, but in a good way.

 

Data isn’t valuable by itself, we know this, but when APIs make actionable data available to more developers, the consumer wins. APIs provide a hook into datasets that already exist. By stitching data sets together, you get to stand on the shoulders of giants. Before you were constrained by not knowing about your user - now your only constraint is your own creativity.

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Cycling Community Demonstrates the Business Value of APIs

The ecosystem of apps, physical and digital products, and experiences that the cycling community has built on the foundation of power meter data is the best example of how APIs enable creativity and product development.

By stitching together data from phones, heart rate monitors, watches, and power meters, we get companies like Strava, Wahoo, TrainingPeaks, TrainerRoad, Map My Ride, Zwift, Peloton, Soul Cycle, and a hundred others. Giving consumers more diverse and interesting choices helped the industry grow faster than any other.

Zwift built an incredible app to gamify indoor cycling that is powered by heart rate and power data. But they don’t make devices to measure those things - they pull in real-time data using an API. Could Garmin or Wahoo have built Zwift? Sure, but since that’s not their core business, the product would probably have been watered-down and less unique. Could Zwift make a power meter? Sure, but chances are it wouldn’t perform as well as the companies who focus on just that one thing.

Specialization makes the world more interesting. By tackling only a piece of the full experience, Zwift was able to put more resources into making a unique digital experience that consumers love.

Summary

If building fitness apps were cheap enough that you could create unique experiences for all of your user types, your product portfolio would be more interesting and more resilient. Users would be happier, you could be bolder and take bigger risks with each one, and the fitness industry would grow as a result.

Digital products blur the lines between healthcare, wellness and fitness and fuel growth in the fitness industry. The sooner we all get comfortable supporting and using APIs, the faster we’ll get there together.

If we all spend less developing products, build on each others APIs, and reallocate more resources to connecting directly with customers, the fitness industry will grow like the tech industry and the world will be a healthier, happier place.