Weight loss service Weilos has pivoted and now, instead of an online coaching program, offers users a picture taking app, also called Weilos, to document weight loss through selfies.
Weilos used to offer users a peer-to-peer network that connects people who were weight loss success stories to those who are just beginning their journey, or have tried to lose weight before without reaching their goals.
While the Weilos peer-to-peer coaching service use to cost $19, $39 or $59 per month depending on the coach, the new Weilos app is free. Wu said he understands there are many free diet and fitness apps out there, but he's confident that Weilos will provide a "gold standard" for user experience and that not many other apps are trying to provide the social aspect that Weilos has.
"It's no secret that if you have a free app, then you'll get more users than if it's paid," Weilos Founder Ray Wu told MobiHealthNews. "I think the payment was the source of friction for people that get to know what we're making and I think that, we want millions of people to benefit and be inspired and get motivated and help each other out on our app and with the whole payment system, it definitely was slowing it down a little bit."
Wu said he started winding the program down in early October and shut down the service completely by September. Then, at the end of 2013, Wu launched the beta for Weilos' new app, available on iOS, which prompts users to take photos regularly. Weilos' specialized in-app camera ensures that the user stands in the same position every time so they can see even small changes in the way they look. Photos can be shared privately or publicly, although whichever option the user chooses, the user can still see other photos from users who choose to publicly share in the community.
"Progress photos are by far some of the most popular photos on the web right now for weight loss," Wu said. "[People say] it's inspiring because 'I see other real people and if they can do it, I think I can do it'. So what we've done is we made a camera tool that helps line people up so there's an overlay function, so you can line yourself up with an old photo perfectly and you can really visualize the smallest differences."
Besides selfies, users can post pictures of food, of themselves working out, or of other health and diet-related updates. The community also supports status updates, such as weight loss goals reached.
The data-driven nature of health and fitness apps calls into question the connection between food tracking and eating disorders, which various publications, for instance the New Republic, have covered. When MobiHealthNews asked Weilos about their safeguards against this type of user, given the picture-focused bent of the app, Wu said he and his team, who monitor all the posts, would keep their eyes open for those kinds of occurrences.
"That's something that we're going to look out for," Wu said. "We haven't seen any of that on the app so far, but certainly those sorts of psychological or psychiatric type eating disorders are something that we obviously don't want. We're not promoting that type of behavior and of course we want those kinds of people to get help, but we're not psychiatrists here, so we'll definitely look out for it. And if it happens we'll probably just take that type of content off the app and suggest that person get more professional help."
Wu also added that he has not yet come up with a way to monetize the new app, and is currently focusing on expanding the user base. Weilos aims to have an Android version of the app ready in the first half of 2014.