Sway is another interactive relaxation app from ustwo

Digital design studio ustwo — best known for its mobile gaming chops — is doubling down on a move into mindfulness and well-being apps in recent years, with the launch of a second “interactive meditation” app, called Sway.

This follows a journaling app (Moodnotes) with a cognitive behavioral therapy twist, which launched in August 2015, and a visually guided “meditation experience,” called Pause, in October 2015.

All three apps are collaborations with third parties working in the health and well-being space, with ustwo bringing in psychological expertise for Moodnotes via LA-based mobile app firm Thriveport, and working with Danish mental wellness company PauseAble on Pause — and now also with Sway.

Sway is very much a continuation of the thinking behind Pause, which ustwo said was aiming to draw on “ancient Tai Chi and mindfulness practice.” That app involved guiding users to touch the screen of their device and move an amorphous blob around slowly as a way to slow down, relax and achieve a moment or two of calm.

With Sway, the movement element expands beyond just an on-screen movement to encompass the whole body, with users guided by on-screen instructions, music and moving visuals to focus their attention and make slow and gentle movements — these can be whole-body movements or just moving the hand that’s holding the phone.

Sway starts with a couple of minutes of guided “swaying” and gradually increases the time of each daily session until the user is clocking 20 minutes of movement per day. A series of levels are also unlocked as you progress, encouraging a range of different movements aimed at relaxing the user.

As well as displaying text instructions to get sessions started, the screen of the Sway app is given over to soothing visuals — consisting of a generative soundscape of undulating hills in pastel-toned gradient colors that morph and change form and color while you move back and forth. Users are encouraged to don headphones and soak themselves in the tranquil accompanying music.

After a few moments, the app also moves on to instructing the user to look away from the screen so a relaxation session can continue with a phone tucked entirely out of sight, in a pocket say, with just music and physical movement left.

If this is all sounding a bit too hippie for your tastes, ustwo is claiming it can back up its theory of “interactive meditation” being effective for relaxation purposes, and more accessible — and more effective in noisy environments — than audio-guided meditations based on a series of studies it commissioned.

The basic argument being you might be able to more easily fit one of its “interactive meditation” sessions into, for example, your daily commute or your office environs, where it might be harder to concentrate on a more traditional audio-guided meditation given all the distracting activity going on around you.

The studies were carried out by Professor Xiangshi Ren at the Center for Human Engaged Computing at the Kochi University of Technology in Japan, and compared ustwo’s earlier Pause app with the audio-guided meditation app Headspace.

However they only involved a small number of participants, and were not placebo-controlled. “To date we’ve only focused on validating its functional effects, and not yet done any placebo-controlled trials — this is something we’ll definitely explore,” says a spokesman.

They also weren’t studying the effectiveness of Sway specifically — but testing its predecessor Pause. Albeit, ustwo is arguing both apps are essentially utilizing the same physically interactive approach to encouraging mindfulness and relaxation.

And, well, at the end of the day if an app ends up making some people feel calmer because they think it’s helping them feel calmer it’s arguably doing something positive (even if not necessarily for the reasons claimed).

As with ustwo’s other mobile health apps, Sway — which launches tomorrow — will be a paid download, this time priced at $2.99.

The earlier Pause app ($1.99) has had around 400,000 downloads to date, while Moodnotes ($3.99) has clocked around 40,000 downloads on iOS, with an Android version also due to launch “within weeks.”