James Clear’s Atoms App Helps Build Atomic Habits


James Clear’s 2018 bestseller “Atomic Habits” has sold more than 15 million copies to date with its insights on how to change for the better with habitual action.

In February, Clear launched an interactive extension of the book with an app, Atoms, based on the principles outlined in the book.

“After seeing how the book has helped millions of people establish new habits, I’m incredibly excited by the idea of leveraging technology to help even more people make small, meaningful improvements,” Clear told Forbes at the time.

Related: James Clear Explains Why the ‘Two Minute Rule’ Is the Key to Long-Term Habit Building

When billed monthly, the app costs $10 per month (or $120 per year) or $70 for a yearly subscription. The list price of the book, in contrast, is $27 for a one-time purchase.

James Clear. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women 2019)

As an “Atomic Habits” fan, I was intrigued by the idea of an app that made the book easier to apply. Is the app easy to use? What would be different from the book? Would its functionality justify its cost?

Here’s what I discovered:

Setup and Habit Tracking

After downloading the app, I didn’t have to make an account or give the company my card information. I was instead automatically enrolled in a free trial of Atoms Pro, which meant that I could record up to six habits, log up to six habits on Apple Watch, and access daily lessons, which are daily insights from James Clear — for 28 days.

After the trial period, I could do nothing and continue as a free user, with tracking for only one habit and no daily lessons, or choose to subscribe.

The app encouraged creating a habit in the exact structure outlined in Atomic Habits, and then checking in at a certain time to complete it.

The habit was written in the following format: “I will” (insert action item here), when (insert time of day here) so that I can become (insert the person you want to be here).”

My habit. Credit: Entrepreneur

My habit was “I will write one thing that I’m grateful for when I eat lunch so that I can become a mindful person.” I could change it according to changes in my schedule or priorities.

The app home screen reflected the habit I wrote down. I could also set a time that I wanted the app to notify me to check in about the habit, and log the completion of the habit at any time by long pressing the habit circle on the home screen.

The Atoms home screen. Credit: Entrepreneur

Completing the habit was satisfying. A screen appeared that applauded the accomplishment and showed how the day stacked up against others in the week.

The app’s Daily Lessons, with short reads about habit formation and mindfulness was intriguing at first. I received a notification at around 8 a.m. with a new daily lesson.

Daily Lessons under the Mindset tab. Credit: Entrepreneur

However, I quickly realized that these daily lessons were covered in the book.

I would have liked to be able to interact with the lessons, perhaps by highlighting, underlining, or commenting on individual lines, and maybe even read these pieces on a larger, non-app screen.

Only account holders could share daily lessons. So while the share function wasn’t locked behind a paywall during the trial, it did require additional information.

How the Atoms App Works

Clear told Forbes that the same team that helped build apps like Slack and Uber helped design this app.

“There are two questions at the center of the app experience,” he told the publication. “Can we help people take action? And how can we make this more delightful?”

It’s evident that Atoms was designed cleanly, with a clear purpose in mind, but the app currently feels narrower than competitors — and I personally think that the price is just too high for what it is.

Related: I Tested the ‘Invest As You Shop’ App to See If It Really Makes Investing Less Intimidating

The Habit Tracker app on iOS, for example, is among the top 50 most popular productivity apps on the Apple Store. Though its user interface is less streamlined than Atoms’ design, Habit Tracker has more features and auto-tracks habits like exercise and steps through Apple Health.

Habit Tracker is a clear competitor to Atoms, at a far lower price point of a lifetime purchase for $9 or a $3.49 per year subscription.

For the up to $120 per year price tag, Atoms appears startlingly simple in comparison. I did enjoy using it more than I did Habit Tracker, but the higher price was offputting.

Making it such that pro users can only log up to six habits seems like a good idea, in theory, to avoid too many behavioral changes, but it could also read as restricted functionality at a high price point.

The app doesn’t have much flexibility in appearance either. I couldn’t quickly change to dark mode or change the font size of the daily lessons.

Related: I Tried Airchat, the Hottest New Social Media App in Silicon Valley — Here’s How It Works

I liked how Atoms didn’t lock all of its features behind a paywall or ask users for their card information to access a free trial. The app made opting for a Pro account intentional, not accidental, which means that it will probably attract paid users who feel that the app offers them value that they can’t get elsewhere — not paid users who forgot to cancel a free trial.

Still, the app would offer more value if it were interactive and perhaps more personalized, especially at its current price point.

I’m picturing daily lessons that ask users for answers to questions or input, or an accompanying journaling component to the app so users can write down the challenges and successes they face along the way.

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