With over 70 million users in more than 190 countries, including 2 million paying users in 2020, there's no doubt that Headspace is one of the most popular health apps when it comes to meditation and stress management.
For its part, Calm counted over 25 million users in 2018, with no less than 4 million paying users in 2020. That same year, during the period of containment attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, the app reported 120% more user sessions than Headspace (1).
Very similar objectives, but not identical
Although these 2 apps are direct competitors, their functionalities and therapeutic aims differ somewhat.
Headspace offers a wide range of guided meditations with a strong focus on mindfulness, aimed at managing stress and anxiety, and improving sleep, among other things. It also offers content aimed at optimizing concentration and creativity, at work or when studying.
It is said to be ideal for those wishing to learn how to meditate.
Calm also provide a range of features to help manage stress and anxiety, and achieve more restful sleep. In addition to guided and unguided meditations, it offers breathing programs, master classes by experts in the field, and music for sleep, relaxation or concentration.
It is said to be ideal for both novice users and those with an intermediate level of meditation, who often want less structured meditations, or more flexibility in the choice of sessions.
Reputation and cost, as well as the range of translation languages, pratically identical
It's not here that we'll find elements in favor of one or the other.
The reputation of both companies is excellent, as are the user opinions found on the Apple and Google app Stores. The apps are both recognized as easy to use, accessible and with a pleasing interface.
Although the monthly subscription will be slightly cheaper for one than the other, the annual subscription will be at a very similar cost. Both offer a 7-day free trial. Calm offers free content at all times, but it is limited.
In terms of languages, the apps are available in a similar number of languages, including English, French and Spanish.
Finally, we should add that both apps are particularly suitable for the adult population, but also offer content for children.
What does the research say?
Both Calm and Headspace have been the subject of peer-reviewed published studies, including randomized controlled trials (see this article if you'd like to know more about the different types of studies).
A systematic review published in 2022, "Efficacy and Conflicts of Interest in Randomized Controlled Trials Evaluating Headspace and Calm Apps: Systematic Review" (2) looked at the randomized controlled studies available for these two apps: 14 randomized controlled trials were identified for Headspace, while only one was found for Calm. The clinical elements most often measured by the studies were: mindfulness, well-being, stress and depressive/anxiety symptoms. In general, the studies were not powerful enough to detect small or medium-sized positive effects.
The results for Headspace showed that app usage improved depressive symptoms in 75% of the studies that evaluated this parameter. Results were mixed for mindfulness, well-being, stress and anxiety, with 40% of studies showing an improvement in these clinical elements. The only study for Calm showed improvements in stress, mindfulness and self-compassion.
The researchers of this systematic review therefore concluded that research results for Headspace are promising, whereas randomized controlled trials for Calm are in practice non-existent. In this context, it was not possible to compare the 2 apps.
Comparison via TherAppX AppGuide
Consulting each app's page on AppGuide.ca can be really helpful. Indeed, the first rating on the TherAppX confidence score, found at the bottom left of the card for each app below and on every AppGuide app page (it’s the one with the cross icon), is the app's evidence and endorsement rating, assessed by a TherAppX medical-scientific analyst.
Ratings range from A to E, with A providing confidence that at least 80% of the following criteria are met:
At least one peer-reviewed study has been published, demonstrating the clinical value of the app
At least one peer-reviewed study has been published, positively assessing feasibility or acceptability
The app has been approved by a regulatory body
A clinician has participated in the development of the app
The app is recommended by an independent organization
The economic value of the app is demonstrated by at least one peer-reviewed study
Calm - The features
- Several free meditations
- Master classes by experts in the field
- Breathing exercises
- Relaxing or concentration-enhancing music
- Sleep section - including bedtime stories read by celebrities, sleep music and sleep timer option
- Children's section
- Physical activity section, including yoga and walking meditations
- Section on concentration, focusing on music and playlists
- Statistics and mood tracking, as well as a gratitude journal
- Optional reminders
Headspace - The features
- Gradual introduction to meditation and mindfulness in structured programs
- Group meditations
- Sleep section - including sleep stories, guided exercises, sleep music, soundscapes and radio; also, teaching on techniques to help people fall asleep and improve sleep quality through meditation
- Children's section
- Physical activity section, with a focus on yoga, HIIT workouts, cardio and dance
- Section on concentration and creativity, focusing on breathing exercises and soundscapes
- Statistics and mood tracking, with a social component for tracking and encouraging each other; there is also a gratitude journal
- Optional reminders
- SOS meditations, for moments of intense emotion
In a nutshell
We've seen that both the Calm and the Headspace apps are among the most popular apps in the field of meditation, mindfulness, stress and sleep, and that many of their features are similar.
Although the Headspace app has been studied more extensively and has therefore been able to prove its clinical effectiveness, both apps deserve a top score of “A” for their evidence and endorsement rating from TherAppX: they are both excellent apps in their niche.
If you’re looking to select one, for yourself, for a loved one, or for one of your patients, we hope that reading this article has helped you in your deliberations!
Madeline Lenahan, Jun 16, 2020, Calm records 120% more app sessions than Headspace during quarantine, https://blog.apptopia.com/calm-app-outperforms-headspace-during-quarantine?google_analytics_client_id=GA1.2.528833851.1690899113
Alison O'Daffer, BA, Susannah F Colt, MA, Akash R Wasil, MA, Nancy Lau, PhD, JMIR Ment Health, 2022 Sep 20, Efficacy and Conflicts of Interest in Randomized Controlled Trials Evaluating Headspace and Calm Apps: Systematic Review, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9533203/
Your health care professional can help you choose
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