In Search of the Perfect Quantified-Self App. Part 2: The Apps That Track Them All.
Two months ago, tired of juggling between paper questionnaires and Google Spreadsheets, I embarked on a quest to find the perfect mobile app for self-tracking. The objective was to identify the single app that would enable me to log any kind of personal structured data, in any domain of my life. By structured data I mean data that can be stored as a number or a short text (letter, word or two), as opposed to images, video, sounds, maps, and long texts; think heart rate, weight, responses to psychological questionnaires, etc. In my previous post, I described the search methodology, and how I reduced the initial pool of 185 tracking apps down to 11, applying the versatility criteria. Today, I will narrow down the results even further, and reveal the winning apps.
First, the eleven apps, listed in alphabetical order:
Track and Share
Again, unlike the rest of the tracking apps, these apps are versatile, in a sense that they could be potentially used to log any kind of structured data, and are not limited to only one or two specific lifestyle niches (e.g., sports or mood). Such versatile apps are especially handy if you are trying to interrelate variables from different domains of your life (e.g., mood vs. work performance or physical activity). But versatility is just a pre-requisite. The perfect Quantified-Self app, in my opinion, should possess three additional important characteristics:
- The app has to be customizable when it comes to measurement scale. Depending on the type of question, I should be able to log data using either Boolean (yes/no), ordinal (e.g., not-much/somewhat/.. /very much,), continuous (e.g., weight or cost), categorical (e.g., cardio type: stationary bike, elliptical or treadmill), or n-point Likert scale (e.g., 7-point scale). In other words, the app should be able to handle the mix of variables of various measurement types.
- The app has to offer data portability. I should be able to export data in “csv” or other common format, any time I want, so I can analyze and manipulate it myself. Sorry, but showing me only those pretty charts and trend lines simply won’t do. And remember: that’s my data. I should not pay to access it.
- The app has to be truly mobile. That is, it should be able to work in an offline mode, without wireless or WiFi signal (e.g., on subway), at least at the moment of the data entry. If I want a web app, I will use my computer.
After testing each of the eleven apps for at least a couple of days, I rated them with regard to these three characteristics. Some of the apps had to be tested more than once, just to make sure I discover all their potential. The results of my work are presented in the chart below. I used five-point scale to rate customizability and data portability (1 = Terrible, 2 = Poor, 3 = Acceptable, 4 = Good, 5 = Excellent), and a binary scale to rate mobility (0= Not mobile, 1 = Truly Mobile). The final rating was a sum of all three scores. You can also download Quantified self apps ratings matrix in Excel format.
Yep, it’s a tie! The two apps that both scored the highest 10 points are rTracker and Track & Share. No doubt, the rTracker has a better selection of scales. I am particularly impressed with the rTracker’s “sliding” scale: you can set any range you like. Alas, the choice of ordinal scales in Track and Share is limited to 3-, 4- and 5-point scales (although you can always use numbers). However, TrackNShare offers much easier data export: you can simply e-mail yourself csv-file (the rTracker data can only be accessed via iTunes). Both use interesting approach to grouping items into categories (“trackers” in rTracker and “screens” in TrackNShare). At the end I personally prefer rTracker, because it’s cheaper (.99 cents, versus 9.99 for the full version of TrackNShare).
Some screenshots from rTracker, showing different measurement scales:
And similar scales in TrackNShare:
Just one point behind these two are Daily Tracker and NumRecorder. The Daily Tracker has a better selection of scales (NumRecorder only accepts numeric values), and is also perfect for logging unstructured data: you can add photos, notes, voice memos, locations, etc. The NumRecorder, on the other hand, is very simple to configure and use.
At this point, my search for the quantified-self app is over. Starting next month, I will be using rTracker. Let’s hope I made the right choice, and it will work well in the long run. I will definitely keep you posted! Just to be fair, my search methodology was limited to only iOS apps. But who knows, maybe Android market has a better selection of QS tools? I would love to hear back from the Android users (and will be happy to link to the blog posts).