Vancouver startup launches iPhone app that is a personal trainer for your brain

By Gillian Shaw, Vancouver Sun, January 15, 2013

VANCOUVER — As the new year rolls out, many of us have rolled off the couch and into our local gyms where fitness trainers push us to build muscle tone and endurance.

But what about our brain? It’s probably doing nothing more taxing than reading People Magazine while we trudge on the treadmill. Or counting crunches.

A Vancouver start-up is aiming to change that with its personal trainer for the brain. Fit Brains Trainer, an app for iPhones and iPads jogs your brain off the couch and puts it through callisthenics aimed at keeping it fit.

In barely three weeks since its release, Fit Brains Trainer has rocketed to the top of the education category in Apple’s Canadian app store and to the top 10 in the United States.

“The idea is just as your would work with a personal coach for your physical fitness, this is like having a personal coach for your brain,” said Michael Cole, co-founder and chief executive of Vivity Labs, the company that created the Fits Brain Trainer. “This works on all the key muscle groups in the brain.

“It focuses on memory, logic, speed, visual and concentration — all the key areas of the brain.”

The games are developed by Dr. Paul Nussbaum, the company’s co-founder and chief scientific officer and a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct associate professor in neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

With the Alzheimer Society of B.C. predicting the number of people in the province with dementia will more than double in the next 25 years and similar projections in other jurisdictions, brain health is high on the agenda for many aging baby boomers. But it’s not only the boomers who are signing up for brain training, according to Cole. The app also has a following among younger generations.

“The interesting thing we are seeing in the app is the wide range of people who are using it — from baby boomers and seniors with iPads to younger people in their teens and 20s.

“It’s a fun game and it tracks your performance,” he said.

You can watch your performance improve as you play the game, moving to increasingly challenging levels with the app tracking your progress. And if you want to know how you compare to others in your age group, there’s an option to check that.

People are also spending more time playing Fit Brains than other apps in the same category.

“People are spending five times more time with the app compared to other apps in the education channel and they are using it an average of 3.7 times a week,” said Cole.

Since it launched, the game has seen more 200,000 downloads, some 1.6 million games played and it’s averaging more than 10,000 downloads a day.

It’s now only available in English but in two weeks it will be released in eight translations — three Asian languages, four European and one South American.

While the company has had a web-based version of the brain training game, the mobile version is the one that is catching on.

“We always thought brain training was better suited for mobile,” said Cole. “People can fit their brain training in for 10 minutes a day wherever they are instead of having to sit down at their computer to do it.”

The app is free, with revenue based on a subscription model. You get five free training sessions with the app, giving you about 15 games to try out before you have to upgrade to a paid account to keep playing. If you don’t want to upgrade, you can continue to play with three games offered in the free version.

The subscription is modestly priced — $9.99 a year or you can opt for six months for $5.99 or three months for $4.99. And according to Cole, the number of people who are starting out with the free version and converting to the subscription is five to six times higher than it is for other games. He said the average conversion rate is one to two per cent.

“That seems to be the winning formula,” Cole said of the game’s $9.99 annual subscription, which is one price that includes all iOS devices — the iPad, iPod Touch and the iPhone.

The app isn’t just a bunch of brain teasers. There are 10 games with multiple levels in each game and more are being added. The game adapts to your playing and your score can be high in one area — for example concentration, while you need more work in another — perhaps memory.

“It’s an adaptive learning system,” said Cole. “It always pushes you up. You may be a beginner in a memory game but you may be an expert in concentration.

“It adapts to your level in all key areas of the brain making sure it is stimulating and challenging people in every area.”


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