Meditation apps are on the rise with heavyweights like Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer leading the race and fighting for domination. After all, it is a big business. A recent report from ResearchAndMarket pegs the US meditation app market at over $1 billion.
For customers, meditation apps offer a way to learn meditation, be mindful, and stay focused.
After being a Headspace user for a year, I started looking at its alternatives and found Insight Timer. Andy Puddicombe, a monk turned businessman owns Headspace. He wants to teach meditation and help you practice it by following his strong and relaxing British accent.
Christopher and Nicholas Plowman own Insight Timer and want to create a community of meditators and teachers. Insight Timer aims to be a platform for teachers to teach or sell their meditation methods and meditators to follow as well as rate them.
Headspace has a neat interface where you will notice lots of animated characters trying to convey what the course is all about. There is a library tab where you will find all the courses that are available. The app now offers a new tab labeled Sleep, and that's something new since my last visit. We will explore it later in the guide. There are different categories like stress, disease (there is one for cancer patients), relationships and so on.
Insight Timer is more about the community. There is a Today tab with new daily meditations for you. For some reason, Insight Timer thinks I should know the number of active users in the world before meditating. There is a useful Timer to time your sessions. Finally, there is a Courses tab which is self-explanatory.
Both apps are based on material design. However, Headspace appears a bit more immaculate and makes you want to use it often.
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2. Courses and Sessions
We install the apps to help us follow a course and learn meditation or to get better at it. Headspace comes with a 30-day beginner plan containing 10 sessions where each session has 3 parts called Basics. Each part begins with an introduction and an animated video. Every session is roughly 10 minutes long.
The sessions and the course help you gauge what to expect from it. The courses are suitable for beginners who don’t know where to begin.
Insight Timer has a short 7-day beginner course. Apart from that, you can choose from over 12,000 meditations. Yeah, I felt lost too.
Where Andy Puddicombe is the only voice you hear in Headspace, there are many teachers on Insight Timer. If you don't like one, there is always another — options are always good.
You either pick a category or use the search to find niches like sleep, focus, healing, and so on. Opening a course will tell you its play time, reviews from users and the name of the teacher. It’s a marketplace and a thriving one at that. You can follow the individual teachers, read reviews, send messages and communicate with users, and bookmark sessions.
Where you get consistency in Headspace, you get variety and community in Insight Timer.
Andy has a very soothing voice, and there are ample pauses in-between his sessions for you to follow his instructions. Insight Timer has many courses, and not all of them are created equal. Different approach and techniques combined with different ways of teaching and accents make it harder to narrow down. For example, 5 Minutes to Focus had ample pauses while Evening Productivity by Robert Plotkin had no pause at all.
Headspace has introduced Sleepcasts which are a combination of guided exercises and ambient sounds to help you sleep better and faster. Headspace is using gamification where you will unlock achievements for consistency. Works for some people, I guess but not for me.
Not to be left behind, Insight Timer has a Music section where you will find hundreds of music targeting different atmospheres like water, forest, and so on. You can filter these sounds by length, category, and most played. Insight Timer has a similar gamification system where you unlock milestones for being consistent.
You will notice that some of these audio clips are almost 1 hour long. These are more suitable for meditating or just relaxing rather than trying to sleep. However, some users claim to sleep better with ambient noise playing in the background.
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3. Community and Timer
Insight Timer’s strength comes from its active community. The app claims to have nearly 6 million meditators. Sadly, you cannot add users who have left reviews on a course or session as your friend. You can only do it on the homepage where the most recently active users are listed. What if they don’t follow the same teacher or sessions? That defeats the purpose of having a community.
I liked the timer feature in the Insight Timer. You can set a time limit before you begin meditating, so you don’t lose track of time. Choose an interval which will be denoted by a sound and then pick the music. Say a 12-minute session will have 3 intervals where you will hear a ding after every 4 minutes. That's a subtle way to keep track of your sessions. I also use it during workouts to keep track of my HIITs. Just save it as a preset. Or you can use it while cooking?
Sounds are mesmerizing and remind me of the Tibetan Monastery that I visited in Coorg recently. Fortunately, it was prayer time during my visit, so I got to hear the symphony of chanting, the music, and the gong.
4. Pricing and Platform
Headspace and Insight Timer apps are available on Android and iOS platforms. Both target mobile users, and that makes sense considering the meditation sessions are as short as 5 minutes. That means you can practice new zen habits wherever you are.
The free plan of Headspace comes with 30 sessions which comes to 1-month. You can repeat these sessions as many times as you want. After that, it will cost you $7.99/month paid annually, or you can upgrade to the lifetime membership for a fee of $399.99.
With over 12,000 sessions in their portfolio, there are quite a few courses available for free on Insight Timer. The app's entire catalog plus along with features like offline and dark mode will cost you $60/yearly.
Calm Beneath Chaos
It is an irony that these apps expect us to focus while constantly listening to their voice and receiving notifications to upgrade. Isn't meditation about getting rid of all distractions including smartphones?
Headspace is well-designed and more focused. Fewer options mean you can begin immediately. I think it is ideal for beginners. Insight Timer has more courses and free content and a free to use timer that is useful, even for other activities. Where Headspace has a lifetime plan, Insight timer has a cheaper yearly plan.
Next up: Want to get rid of the smartphone while meditating? Who doesn't! Check out our in-depth review of Muse, a meditation headset built for those who are always on the move.