Runkeeper and Nike+ are fantastic tools for people who are already exercising as a habit, but how do you get someone who’s inactive off the couch for the first time–how do you make exercising appealing to the undecideds, so to speak? Teemo is a new, free iPhone app by Bonnier R&D and Ammunition that takes short interval exercises and places them in the context of worldwide adventure. It’s designed, not for the athlete or the would-be athelete, but for the masses of the rest of us.
“We know there is a large portion of the population that wants to feel fit, but they are stuck in a stressful holding pattern,” Ammunition’s Matt Rolandson tells Co.Design. “Imagine people who keep meaning to join a gym, but don’t. Or people who actually have joined a gym, but never go (the stock and trade of the gym industry.)”
Teemo makes the baby steps into exercise easy. You can pick a challenge like “Climb Everest,” “Eurotrek” or “Jungle Rescue,” then choose a few friends on Facebook. Within about 30 seconds, you can begin your interval training. Travel writers have penned terse, episodic narratives, and to make progress, you need only do exercises for short spurts, like lunging for 30 seconds. Your progress is marked on a regional map.
If the idea sounds a bit familiar, it’s because we’ve seen a similar idea by Digit, who mapped their employees’ trips up the stairs to the ascent of urban mountains. What makes Teemo a bit different is that it’s actually an instructional tool–video clips show you how to do exercises that you’re not familiar with. And unlike Nike+ or Runkeeper, Teemo doesn’t use any iPhone hardware, like GPS or the accelerometer, to assess activity. It’s all based upon the honor system.
“As far as verification goes, a user could cheat,” admits Rolandson. “Just like Draw Something and a lot of other apps (and things), but we’re hoping that the social contract between friends will prevent too much of that. And it would be incredibly time consuming to wait out the timers in order to cheat the app. Cheating just wouldn’t be worth it.”
To the Teemo team, that (positive) social contract is the most important part of the platform. While we’ve seen gamification in exercise apps before, most pit users against one another in competition. Meanwhile, Teemo is aiming for a different goal. Not winning or maybe even being super fit, but “happiness.”
“All the happiness research points to the idea that Social Comparison (the basic human compulsion the constantly assess out status relative to others) is the single biggest source of human unhappiness,” writes Rolandson. “Social Comparison also happens to be the key social psychological mechanic in Nike Fuel, all the game-ified life apps…and Facebook. The happiness lit also tells us that the single greatest source of happiness in strong, reliable, supportive, regular connections with family and friends. That is the social psychological mechanic at the heart of Teemo.”
It’s true that Nike Fuel is framed around competition, but all Nike+ products have long had group goals built-in. And actually, I see Teemo as more similar to Nike Fuel than it is different. Both products are taking a new approach to exercise, one not just about gamification, but about empowering yourself for adventure.
Personally, I found Teemo a bit more interesting on paper than it was addictive in practice. One interval completed, and I had no urge to play more. The challenges themselves were just too once-removed from the actions. In Zombies, Run!, I love the core mechanic of running from zombies because I literally run as part of the story and as part of the exercise. In Teemo, I just can’t wrap my head around what lunging has to do with backpacking across Europe.
That said, for $0/month, Teemo is a far cheaper experiment than that gym membership. You may enjoy it more than I do.