Tale of an app: The who and what behind Malaysian fitness instructor Joanna Soh’s Fio

Erna Mahyuni
TJ Tee and Joanna Soh's vision for Fio is one that makes fitness easily accessible for anyone, anywhere. — Picture courtesy of Alphapod

KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 — Staying fit has been one of the bigger challenges for people stuck at home during the ongoing global pandemic. It’s something fitness instructor Joanna Soh relates to.

Her YouTube channel has over 1.7 million subscribers who come for the workout videos as well as health and fitness tips. Now she has an app, Fio, to her name.

Soh worked with Alphapod’s TJ Tee to develop the app, with the latter also being motivated by his desire to be less sedentary.

When asked in an email interview about what she thought Fio could expand on beyond her existing YouTube channel, she said that Fio brought together a group of internally certified trainers who specialised in various fitness styles such as HIIT, strength training, kickboxing, yoga, pilates, barre and more.

“Fio’s primary focus is on three main pillars: There’s body, which encompasses 30-minute home workouts that require minimal to no equipment, and nutrition, meaning simple healthy and wholesome recipes that can be prepared in under 20 minutes. The third is mind, which means short, bite-sized videos to educate users on getting into the right mindset in order to succeed,” she said.

Soh added that Fio offered a much larger variety of workouts than her YouTube channel as well as monthly guided programmes that combine complementing workouts, nutrition and mind content that work together to yield more effective results for users.

“As Fio’s workouts are designed to be gym-free from the beginning, we have seen an uptake in subscribers and usage in recent months as users facing the Covid-19 lockdowns turn to home-based, bodyweight workouts that can easily be performed with minimal to zero use of equipment,” she said.

Making it simple

When asked about what he thought Fio added to the huge plethora of apps already on the market, Tee said, ”We believe that the key to a great fitness app is to really understand the needs, pains and realities of users, and deliver a solution that meets them in the best way possible.”

Tee said three challenges people experienced with fitness was being too busy, losing motivation and thus being unable to develop a sustainable fitness habit and seeing no visible, lasting results despite repeated attempts to get fit.

“Fio’s answer to these problems is an approach we call “3-2-1-FIT”. It’s a simple formula that consists of a 30-minute workout, 20-minute recipe, and 2 x 5-minute mindset conditioning exercises (morning and night). Collectively, users just need to spend up to an hour each day in order to cultivate a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Through guided monthly programs, users follow this effective, gym-free fitness routine that keeps them engaged daily, even on rest days which are necessary for the body to rejuvenate and recover.

Explaining that Fio is not one of those hardcore fitness apps that are about pushing yourself to the limit. Tee said, “Fio caters to the needs and realities of the regular user — preferring practical, progressive measures over short-term, intense bursts. We believe that everybody’s fitness journey is unique, and that every individual progresses at his and her own pace.”

Besides exercise, Fio also differentiates itself with its nutritional focus on simple, 20-minute Asian recipes that cater to a diverse range of requirements including vegan meals. The meals are also macro-calculated to be nutritionally sound.

Looking ahead

Soh hopes that Fio users know that they are in control of their own health and that they can start leading a healthier and fitter lifestyle from the safe confines of their own home.

“I want them to become a positive influence on their families and friends too! I really believe in the saying 'The best project you’ll ever work on is you.'”

Tee said users can expect even more this year, with plans to better community engagement.

“Keeping healthy and fit shouldn’t be a solitary journey—it’s always more fun to work out with the global #Fiofam.

“We’ve seen the rapid adoption of Apple Watch globally, and we’re excited to bring a great Fio experience to people’s wrists! We’re working on an entirely new Fio experience that we believe will be unique, even for existing users of our app,” he said.

He also expressed his excitement about the upcoming Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) happening on June 23.

“For the first time, developers from around the world can tune in online to WWDC without having to pay for an expensive flight and entry ticket. That to me is an amazing opportunity, as we’ve always wanted to attend the live event but couldn’t afford the trip,” he said.

The team at Alphapod are looking forward in particular to the announcement of iOS 14 and watchOS7 and their latest features for developers.

Tee said, “Personally, I’m looking forward to hearing about the rumoured Apple fitness app and how that might present interesting opportunities for Fio.”

He noted that compared to when Alphapod started out in 2009, the technologies and tools today are so much more powerful.

“Back then, iOS was still very new and the developer community was at its nascent stage. We had very limited access to technical literature and community support. Even hiring iOS software engineers was a real challenge, so we had to resort to training specialised software engineers from the ground up. That gradually changed as iOS matured as a platform,” he said.

The Fio app is available for download on the App Store here and if you want to keep up with the latest updates on WWDC you can get the Apple Developer app here.