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MyFitnessPal rolls out its first paid offering, a premium service for exercise buffs

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It's the app's first big move since being acquired by Under Armour

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

As smartphones rich in sensors and wearable computing devices pressed to our skin vacuum up data about our bodies and activity, digital health is rapidly becoming a large and mainstream market. One of the leading mobile apps in the world of digital health is MyFitnessPal, which was acquired by Under Armour earlier this year for $475 million. Today the company, which tracks diet and exercise, is launching its first premium service, an ad-free paid subscription for power users.

"People want to go beyond the calorie."

"People want to go beyond the calorie," said founder Mike Lee. The service, which now counts over 70 million active users, began as a way to simply track what you ate. It then layered on activity tracking and would update meal suggestions based on exercise. But a lot of power users wanted to go deeper, and were willing to pay for it. "We want to offer them a way to make custom reports, to dig deeper into the nutrient density of the food, and to customize the measurements used to plan their meals." The premium service will cost $9.99 a month or $49.99 a year and will be available on iOS and Android.

myfitnesspal premium

The transition from helping average people lose weight to helping bodybuilders perfect their protein intake makes a lot of sense now that MFP is part of Under Armour. The app has become popular among the musclebound set, but its features were still mainly aimed at ordinary folks trying to lose weight. The new features recognize that, and pivot toward the brand of its new parent company. "At a very high level, Under Armour’s mission is to make athletes better," says Lee. "It was clear to them that digital and data was becoming a bigger part of how to improve athletic performance."

Is Under Armour a technology company?

But is Under Armour, best known as an apparel company, really in a position to challenge companies like Apple and Google, both of which are working on plans to help people track and understand their health data? "Data is fine, but to keep people coming back to the app, you need community," says Lee. "That’s what we have that they don’t." With the acquisition of MyFitnessPal and Endomondo this February, Under Armour says it has 120 million active users sharing data about their diet and exercise. It’s not clear if people can communicate across those different services yet, but the ability to chat with other users is a key to maximizing engagement.

myfitnesspal premium

There is another, less convincing argument about brand synergy here. "A lot of people don’t understand this about them, but they are a technology company, from the very beginning. It was a shirt developed by a football player who was frustrated with his cotton t-shirt weighing him down and making him cold. So he developed the compression shirt." Lee says. "They created a mag-zip zipper, changing something that was the same for 50 years. You can do it one handed!"

Zippers aside, Under Armour has experimented with building its own wearables. Earlier this year it announced a partnership with HTC around the Grip fitness band and it also created its own wearable fitness band, the Armour 39. The device got high marks for its comfort and data, but lacked a polished app and social features. That is precisely the kind of experience it got with the MyFitnessPal purchase.  "They have tried this stuff before, but realized they needed a little outside expertise, says Lee. "They don’t want to be disrupted, they want to be the disrupter."