Background: There is growing evidence for the positive impact of mindfulness on wellbeing. Mindfulness-based mobile apps may have potential as an alternative delivery medium for training. While there are hundreds of such apps, there is little information on their quality.
Objective: This study aimed to conduct a systematic review of mindfulness-based iPhone mobile apps and to evaluate their quality using a recently-developed expert rating scale, the Mobile Application Rating Scale (MARS). It also aimed to describe features of selected high-quality mindfulness apps.
Methods: A search for "mindfulness" was conducted in iTunes and Google Apps Marketplace. Apps that provided mindfulness training and education were included. Those containing only reminders, timers or guided meditation tracks were excluded. An expert rater reviewed and rated app quality using the MARS engagement, functionality, visual aesthetics, information quality and subjective quality subscales. A second rater provided MARS ratings on 30% of the apps for inter-rater reliability purposes.
Results: The "mindfulness" search identified 700 apps. However, 94 were duplicates, 6 were not accessible and 40 were not in English. Of the remaining 560, 23 apps met inclusion criteria and were reviewed. The median MARS score was 3.2 (out of 5.0), which exceeded the minimum acceptable score (3.0). The Headspace app had the highest average score (4.0), followed by Smiling Mind (3.7), iMindfulness (3.5) and Mindfulness Daily (3.5). There was a high level of inter-rater reliability between the two MARS raters.
Conclusions: Though many apps claim to be mindfulness-related, most were guided meditation apps, timers, or reminders. Very few had high ratings on the MARS subscales of visual aesthetics, engagement, functionality or information quality. Little evidence is available on the efficacy of the apps in developing mindfulness.
Keywords: mental health; mindfulness; mindfulness-based mobile apps; mobile health (mHealth).