Pros and Cons
- Extensive features, including workouts, coaching, guided exercises, meditations
- Dynamic, impressive visual design with vivid colors, illustrations, and animations
- Challenging navigation at times; many features, and not so easy-to-learn
- Pre-determined, non-customizable lists of goals, habits, challenges
- Extensive features to gamify the user’s life, users will have fun and not get bored easily
- Fully customizable task list and ability to individualize many aspects of habits and goals
- Ideal for users who are more tech savvy and who are seeking a role-playing, gamified way to get things done
- Nothing prevents users from over-reporting success in completion of habits and goals (i.e., users can continually press confirmation that they did something they were supposed to do, which will give their avatar points towards “leveling up”)
Productive Habit Tracker:
- Robust ability to track user statistics, with completion rates, habit attainment, and more
- Simple, practical user interface with no extraneous features or potential distractions
- Limited features, such as the ability to implement only habits and one-time tasks
- Not visually engaging and lack of options, not much to keep users motivated
Fabulous, Habitica, and Productive Habit Tracker are all habit building, goal-focused, productivity apps. These apps are all designed to help users cultivate healthy habits by breaking down goals into manageable steps that can be easily accomplished. This review compares the three apps and makes some recommendations for use for each one.
Fabulous features colorful illustrations, motivational quotes, rich features, and more. This app is built on a wide array of behavior change principles designed to capture the attention of and engage even the most severe procrastinators.
Built on the principle of gamification, Habitica offers users a fun, exciting way to harness the power of play to accomplish tasks and implement wellness and other goals. Indeed, if the user doesn’t accomplish chosen daily habits in real life, the avatar in the app slips backwards.
Productive Habit Tracker is a simple, straightforward tool with a clean layout designed to help accomplish goals and habits. With its impressive data tracking ability, users will likely find motivation in wanting to improve their statistics.
The one common denominator among these three apps is their use of accountability. Users are held accountable to the app (and in other ways) by reporting progress made towards or away from set goals.
Recommendations for Use
Put simply, all three of these apps can be useful for anyone who wants to improve themselves. Whether that be through developing healthier habits (such as, drinking more water, exercising, getting more sleep, etc.), working towards goals (saving money, have more social interactions, focus better, etc.), or becoming more organized and productive (accomplish to do tasks, keep track of due dates, etc.), any of these apps can help the user.
Individuals who struggle with time management, goal attainment, organization, and productivity may particularly benefit from using these apps. Fabulous, Habitica, and Productive Habit Tracker may be particularly helpful for users who struggle with executive functioning (EF) deficits, found in diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and others. If you have a diagnosis of ADHD or ASD, consider talking to your provider about how these apps could be part of your management plan. Additionally, users who struggle with procrastination will likely benefit from these apps.
More specifically, I would recommend Fabulous for users who are keen on cultivating wellness/health goals. Upon opening the Fabulous app, users are guided through a series of wellness goal questions, which then result in building a personalized “wellness plan” to guide continued use.
Users who struggle with keeping engaged will enjoy Habitica‘s fun, playful gamified approach to tasks, habits, and goals. In fact, the developers’ tagline for Habitica is “gamify your life”. That being said, this app is recommended for the more technologically savvy, given the dynamic user experience, large number of features, and multiple moving parts.
Among these apps, Productive Habit Tracker is the most straightforward to use and would be recommended for more novice app users. Uers who like to see visual representations of their progress and accomplishments will enjoy the robust, detailed statistical graphs and charts that track completion rates and more.
Fabulous, Habitica, and Productive Habit Tracker all have many great features. Whichever app is used, I would recommend first time users start slowly at first (e.g., only add a few habits or goals for the first week) so they can get used to the layout and functionality of the app and minimize becoming overwhelmed by all its capabilities. Additionally, all three of these apps will only help as much as they are used. For example, the more the user inputs both successes and slip-ups towards the goal, the better progress is tracked toward the goal.
Fundamentally, Fabulous, Habitica, and Productive Habit Tracker all rely on a simple, yet powerful, property of psychology, known as operant conditioning (for more information about conditioning see Akpan, 2020). When the user indicates a success, they receive some type of positive reinforcement or reward – in different ways in each app.
Additionally, all three of these apps are rooted in evidence-based goal setting and habit development strategies. The concept of goal setting has been noted by researchers as an essential component of behavior change (Epton et al., 2017). Furthermore, promoting integration of healthy habits has been suggested to be a useful method to encourage longer term behavior change (Gardner, 2012). Fabulous, Habitica, and Productive Habit Tracker all rely on cultivating small, manageable steps as habits and tasks.
Fabulous is based on research from a team of behavioral economists from Duke and Yale Universities. Behavioral economics can be seen as a synthesis of why people do what they do (whether it be reasoning, estimates, decision, and actions), such as what choices they make and why they make those decisions (Keven & Terziev, 2017). This seems to be quite an appropriate foundation for designing a habit building app. Fabulous touts its use of evidence-based behavior change habits and even directly cites research (with a link to an article) in the app in support of a goal attainment strategy. As a researcher, I find this integration of research both in the development and implementation of the app impressive and exciting.
While not directly integrated in the app, evidence-based approaches also support the content employed in Habitica. This app is built around the concept of gamification, i.e. “the process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (such as a task) so as to encourage participation”. On face value, this concept seems like a perfect, engaging motivator for individuals who are looking to develop goals, habits, and accomplish things. Gamification – whether in education (Chapman & Rich, 2018) or healthcare (Schmidt-Kraepelin et al., 2018) – is an increasingly expanding field of interest to both consumers and researchers. Researchers have found that adding the element of gamification increases use of digital health promoting applications, specifically for younger individuals (Lee et al., 2017). However, scholars in the healthcare industry express caution that the successful use of gamification is modulated by the experience, skills, and abilities of users and, thus, may be a potential deterrent for some (Hammedi et al., 2017).
A key component of Habitica is the ability to interact with other users. For example, users can fight monsters together in order to accomplish tasks. Research suggests that goal setting can be most beneficial when goals are established in the presence, or in collaboration with, others (Epton et al., 2017; Hogan et al., 2002). The use of social support to provide accountability and build new habits is also supported by research (Hogan et al., 2002). Fabulous also integrates components of social support with “live open challenges”.
Of the three apps in this review, Productive Habit Tracker appears to be the least directly supported by evidence-based content.
All three of the apps provide acknowledgement (or rewards) for achieving the goals that one sets. This is most pronounced with Habitica, in which users gain “XP” points and other bonuses when they successfully complete habits. Fabulous taps into acknowledgement of user success by displaying congratulatory notifications. Productive Habit Tracker has similar notifications as well as a feature called “streaks” of success if users are regular in their accomplishments. When studying gamification, researchers have found that acknowledgement of achievements increases individuals’ performance and motivation more than simply goal setting (Groening & Binnewies, 2019).
Ease of Use and User Experience
Fabulous was the most difficult to navigate of the apps in this review. It took me a few days of using the app to even get the hang of where the different features are, maybe due to the sheer volume of features or oddities with menu navigation. There are a lot of features and things one can be doing, which may have been a factor in why I never quite knew what to do or where to go next. Once I got more familiar with how to navigate throughout the app, I found myself easily moving across the menu tabs.
Habitica was fairly easy to navigate. It took me less time than Fabulous to locate features in the app, but more time than Productive Habit Tracker. I found myself catching on pretty quickly how to create a new habit or a “daily” using the “+” in the upper right-hand corner. There is a lot to do in this app, but it is still well organized and easy to find your way around. Habitica can be used simply to cultivate habits and goals, but it is ideally designed to gamify this process. Because of this, Habitica has a lot of features involved in the gamification: users can purchase customizable items in the market and shops; equip their avatar in inventory; and connect with other users to complete quests and challenges. Individuals have a choice whether to make use of these options or not. The basic implementation of habits and goals is not directly impacted by the more extensive gamification options.
Productive Habit Tracker was the quickest of the three apps for me to get the hang of using. In just a few minutes, I felt comfortable navigating through the menu and setting up a new habits . In terms of accessibility, users can pick imperial or metric units of measurement and select among five different notification tones. However, I was disappointed that there was no option for “vibrate” as a notification, or any other accessibility features for users who are hard of hearing or have other disabilities—something that none of the apps in this review offered. One frustrating aspect of Productive Habit Tracker was that, upon creating an account, I was immediately bombarded with prompts to pay to upgrade the app, even before I had time to get familiar with the basics. Users are also limited to 5 habits in the free version, and several other features are only available in the paid version, including setting reminders by location, timed reminders, unlimited habits, and more.
Visual Design and User Interface
Fabulous has a dynamic visual design. Flush with impressive vivid colors, lush illustrations, and tasteful animations, the visuals captivated me regardless of where I was in the app. The design aesthetic is tasteful and drew me in as the user, enticing me to use the app. This is a good feature for the target audience (individuals attempting to make behavior changes) because users have to be engaged with the app in order to benefit from it. While the layout of Fabulous is well organized, providing the option to see an overview of one’s challenges and journeys, as well as eliminating extraneous elements when important information is being conveyed, I seemed to always feel lost in the app. I felt overwhelmed by the number and variety of challenges and journeys I could pick from. I would encourage first time users of Fabulous to start slowly with a few goals at a time and not sign up for too many challenges and journeys at once.
Even though it has many features, the Habitica layout is well organized and likely will appeal to users who are seeking a role-playing game set up. With seemingly endless customization options, I was impressed with the diversity and inclusion features that were offered in the app. For example, when customizing an avatar, users can pick from many types of bodies, skin colors, and other features, including options such as a wheelchair and/or glasses. At the same time, the avatars and images are not the most visually appealing part of this app. Habitica’s graphics pay homage to the old school pixel art originally found in 8-bit and 16-bit computers, graphic calculators, and video game consoles which creates a feeling of nostalgia for users who remember this time in history.
Of the three apps in this review, Productive Habit Tracker was the least visually appealing. That may be because Fabulous and Habitica set a high bar with beautiful illustrations and extensive customization options, respectively. Productive Habit Tracker’s colors are bland and what illustrations exist are simple and uninteresting. That being said, the simplicity of this app may cater well to the less technically savvy, as the user interface is straightforward to navigate, the layout is simple, and there are no frills. Productive Habit Tracker has the features to help users implement habits and tasks, but does not offer anything novel when it comes to visual design and user interface.
*Click the image to enlarge
Despite some challenges with navigation and an overwhelming amount of features I was most impressed with Fabulous. This app is loaded with features, incorporates behavior change strategies supported by empirical research, and has dynamic custom illustrations/animations, and more. The way it guided first time users through a comprehensive wellness goal intake was very impressive. The way the app confidently leads users through implementing small manageable steps towards larger goals also instills user confidence that “I am not alone in this process”. It is clear that a lot of work, time, thought, and energy went into the development of Fabulous, and I highly recommend this app to users looking for a complete program to cultivate habits, gain confidence, prioritize healthy behaviors, develop motivation, promote a positive mindset, and become more successful in reaching goals.
Habitica feels like two apps rolled into one, in a good way. The well-organized multiplayer role playing game (RPG) aspects of the app, along with the straightforward habits, goals, and tasks tracking, kept me engaged and motivated. Everytime I used Habitica I came away thinking that I would never get bored of this app. Habitica is ideally suited for more technologically savvy users who are seeking an engaging, playful way to “treat your real life like a game”. The ability to connect with other users as a team to accomplish goals (and fight monsters) is a big plus for this app. One huge benefit of Habitica over both the other apps in this review is that it is completely free and does not require upgrading (although it is an option) to get access to a wide array of features. I not only felt enjoyment when using the app, but also a desire to open the app and report on my progress towards my goals throughout the day. Put simply, Habitica makes the daily grind of life and keeping healthy fun!
Productive Habit Tracker offers a simple, straightforward approach to developing habits. This app is best for users who are not looking for extra bells and whistles and who also may be more novice to smartphone use. Productive Habit Tracker was my least favorite of the three apps in this review, I think largely because I am on the higher end of technologically savvy and it is quite simplistic. Personally, I was disappointed by the lack of features, but this simplified interface and design can lend a hand in making the user experience easy and navigating the app quick to learn. The one plus of Productive Habit Tracker that was not offered in either Fabulous or Habitica was its impressive statistical displays. Users can see progress towards goals, completion rates, and more, visually represented in powerful charts and graphs.
Akpan, B. (2020). Classical and Operant Conditioning—Ivan Pavlov; Burrhus Skinner. In Science Education in Theory and Practice (pp. 71-84). Springer.
Chapman, J. R., & Rich, P. J. (2018). Does educational gamification improve students’ motivation? If so, which game elements work best?. Journal of Education for Business, 93(7), 315-322. https://doi.org/10.1080/08832323.2018.1490687
Epton, T., Currie, S., & Armitage, C. J. (2017). Unique effects of setting goals on behavior change: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 85(12), 1182–1198. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000260
Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), 664-666. doi: 10.3399/bjgp12X659466
Groening, C., & Binnewies, C. (2019). “Achievement unlocked!”-The impact of digital achievements as a gamification element on motivation and performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 97, 151-166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.02.026
Hammedi, W., Leclerq, T., & Van Riel, A. C. (2017). The use of gamification mechanics to increase employee and user engagement in participative healthcare services. Journal of Service Management, 28(4), 640-661. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOSM-04-2016-0116.