"If you buy the right app, you're essentially buying a community of users you can tap into a little bit more effectively," she says.
Jesse Epstein, program chair of Web and multimedia design at the Touro Graduate School of Technology, calls this the natural result of how advertising has evolved. "The whole landscape of advertising has changed dramatically with the advent of social media and mobile technology," he says. "People just relate to brands different, and a lot of brands have adjusted to that by trying to involve consumers in their brand." Buying apps that people already use and love is one way to do that.
In retail, Newhall says, so much of a relationship a company has with consumers is transactional, and they do things to drive consumers to make purchases. Buying fitness-tracking apps will help these companies "better understand and build a relationship with a community of users that's outside the transaction."
The sheer amount of data that users of the apps create is a benefit, too, Newhall says, and that the fitness brands can "track interactions with the health and wellness state," and that the companies can then adjust their own products based on that information."
App makers are benefitting from these deals too – aside from the cash, says Newhall.
"The real value in their being aligned with some of these brands, just from the perspective of scale, is of getting the resources they need to continue to grow," she says. "It enables them to continue to act not as a solo operator but some degree of being able to scale up the product with resources of a big global brand."
Newhall adds that she's a user of MapMyRun, which falls under MapMyFitness acquired by Under Armour. "What I noticed is that the product wasn't evolving as quickly as I expected over time, but that started to change" after Under Armour stepped in.
"Some companies may want to place an original app online, but others find a turnkey solution and buy it," says Epstein. "It's an economic decision."
One brand that decided buying something else wasn't worth it is Nike. Instead, it invested in its own platforms and apps. In 2006, it created Nike+ for iPods, quickly following it with an iPhone version. In 2012, it launched the NikeFuel band, a fitness tracker they discontinued two year later. But that doesn’t mean they got out of the fitness app business. Far from it: As of April 2014 (the most recent numbers available), the Nike+ Running app had 28 million users on iPhones and Androids.
"They've invested a lot of time in building up resources," Newhall says. By doing it themselves, companies can "tailor it to exactly what you want it to be. There's no question of whether or not it's part of your brand equity."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.