Smartphone applications (apps) offer a potentially cost-effective and a wide-reach aid to smoking cessation. In 2012, a content analysis of smoking cessation apps suggested that most apps did not adopt behaviour change techniques (BCTs), which according to previous research had suggested would promote higher success rates in quitting smoking. This study examined whether or not, this situation had changed by 2014 for free smoking cessation apps available in the Apple App Store. It also compared the use of engagement and ease-of-use features between the two time points.
137 free apps available in the Apple App Sore in 2014 were coded using an established framework for the presence or absence of evidence-based BCTs, and engagement and ease-of-use features. The results from the 2014 data were compared with a similar exercise conducted on 83 free apps available in 2012.
BCTs supporting identity change, rewarding abstinence and advising on changing routines were less prevalent in 2014 as compared with 2012 (14.6% vs. 42.2%, 18.2% vs. 48.2%, and 17.5% vs. 24.1%, respectively). Advice on coping with cravings and advice on the use of stop-smoking medication were more prevalent in 2014 as compared with 2012 (27.7% vs. 20.5% and 14.6% vs 3.6%, respectively). The use of recognised engagement features was less common in 2014 than in 2012 (45.3% vs. 69.6%) while ease-of-use features remained very high (94.5% vs. 82.6%).
There was little evidence of improvement in the use of evidence-based BCTs in free smoking cessation iPhone-based apps between 2012 and 2014.