With the launch of our App Idol competition the iPhoneAppCafe team has been buzzing with app ideas. After I proposed a series of apps that had the team shaking their heads for moral, logistical, social and legal reasons I was sent back to the drawing board to uncover what 10 characteristics make an iPhone app successful. Below you will find a list of characteristics that ensure the top performing apps stand out in a crowded marketplace of over 600,000 competitors. The most successful apps may not possess all of the characteristics mentioned in this article, but they will have at least one of them and your ability to exploit and replicate these characteristics can be the difference between the success and failure of your app as a developer.
1. They Are Innovative
The number one tip that any potential app developer needs to bear in mind is that the app market is a consumer-driven marketplace, it is incredibly competitive, and there are a cacophony of apps all desperately vying to be heard. Therefore, the first question you need to ask yourself is how is your app going to stand out from the crowd? So many app entrepreneurs fall at this first hurdle; sure you think you have a great idea, and sure, your mother, brother and best friend agree but have you really done your research? Is the same exact thing that you want to create already out there?
Let’s use Angry Birds as an example; before it hit the market there were already a plethora of slingshot based games – this is as simple an idea as you can possibly have. But the reason you don’t know the names of these apps and the reason that Angry Birds earns hundreds of thousands of dollars per week is simply down to innovation. Rovio had a talented graphic artist who created the initial concept of the bird; they didn’t know what they would do with the bird but they knew they would use it eventually.
The design was great but what really sets the app apart is a plotline so simple that anyone from your two-year old nephew to your hundred-year old grandmother can understand it. They took a very basic concept (smashing things down) gave it a story line (birds getting their eggs back) added an unnatural set of villains (Green Pigs) and of course had excellent game play. They certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel but what they did is look at what worked on the market, they looked into how they could improve it and they created one of the best selling apps of all time through innovation.
2. They Are Simple
According to a recent study by the Nielsen Group 2012 has seen an increase in the total amount of apps installed on your iPhone at anyone time. The average iPhone user now has 41 apps on their device, which is an increase of 28% on 2011’s figures, but when you consider that there are 600,000 apps available on the market, 41 apps seems like less than zero. The study also revealed that despite the increase in the amount of apps each user has, there has been a decrease in the average time spent on each app; what this means is that if you’re lucky enough to have someone download your app, they’d better understand it immediately.
Personally, when I download an app I give it at worst 30 seconds and at best 3 minutes and if I haven’t mastered its interface during this period then it’s trembling on my screen as I execute the “X” over its head. Apps need to be simple. They need to be simple to use and simple to understand. If you think about any app you use on a regular basis you’ll know it won’t take you longer than 5 seconds to get exactly where you want to be on it. The problem for developers is striking the balance between what is simple and what is so simple it renders the app obsolete. Once you figure this out, you are on to a winning combination.
Image source: deviantbits
3. They Force You To Connect
The difference between a great app and a good app is connection. The reason that Instagram has dominated the app photography market for so long is not just down to the app’s usability and features – there are lots of apps on the market that can do everything that Instagram can do, and some that offer even more. What really sets Instagram apart, and the reason that Facebook swooped in and paid a billion dollars for the company, is down to the unique connectivity behind the Instagram platform. The app forces connection; you are forced to sign up and immediately become part of the Instagram community.
The company also integrated brilliantly into the social media space and regardless of whether you use your profile on Instagram, whether you use a different social network to share, or which email account send your message from, if you want to share an Instagram photo they’ll be damned if the person you are sharing it with doesn’t know exactly where it comes from. This is how their community grew at an exponential rate and why Facebook bought them: not because they were a photography app, but because they were had the potential to be a competing social network. Successful app developers know that getting your audience connected to a world outside your app is crucial for growth.
4. They Are Essential
Lets not get this message twisted up; there isn’t a single iPhone App that starts off as essential. If you lose your phone tomorrow, you aren’t going to die. However, some apps have the ability to supersede the way you live your everyday life and become essential to those who use them. Common examples of these apps include: alarm clocks to get you out of bed, torches (flash lights) to find your front door when paralyzed by booze, transport or map related apps that revolutionize the way you travel, apps like Piggie which will help you to manage your finances and of course the long list of organizing apps which took a hit when Apple rolled out the ‘reminders’ function.
Coming up with one of these ideas isn’t easy and the competition couldn’t be stiffer, but as the technology continues to develop there will be more opportunities for those that are quick off the mark. If you have the idea for an essential app the potential for exponential and unfettered growth is there.
5. They Push You To Review
It’s amazing how something so simple can make such a big difference. Any app new to the market worth its salt uses push notifications to encourage you to leave a review. Some apps even use a reward-based system to help you on your way. What’s in a review, you ask? It will lead to more downloads because the app market consumers rely on these reviews to make informed decisions on whether or not your app is worth downloading at all.
The smartest developers use opportune moments to push you to this review section during a period when you are most likely to leave a positive review. A good example of this are the developers Stick Sports Ltd whose most recent offering Stick Tennis encourages you to leave a review immediately after playing in their excellent free Daily Challenge series. The result is currently 1336 reviews and the average star rating is 4 out of 5. In its basest form, reviews will translate into more downloads.
6. They Roll Out the Free Edition
As I’ve mentioned before (too many times), with over 600,000 apps on the app market we are spoilt for choice when it comes to what we decide to put on our phone. According to a study by the Nielsen group the top 50 apps command up to 58% of all app use and no Top 50 position is more coveted for a start up app than the “Top Free” list. Sure you want to make money with your app, but there are other ways to monetize your idea other than just through app sales.
The big boys intelligently bring Lite versions of their apps to market first. This allows discerning customers to test the apps features and hopefully after becoming sufficiently hooked these customers will make a purchase. If you want to keep your app completely free for download on the marketplace you can still make cash in by adding optional extras (points, packs, levels, additional features) for a nominal fee; failing this, you can always advertise within the app. At the end of the day even though $0.99 is such a nominal amount, with so much competition on the market people aren’t going to pay for anything until they feel that they can’t live without it.
7. They Are Promoted
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a noise? This old parable is just as apt in the app market. You might have come up with the most innovative and genius app the world has ever seen but unless you promote it, or are the lottery equivalent of lucky, the only people who will buy it are your previously mentioned mother, brother and best friend. The website App Promo put together a fantastic infographic on how the top performing apps use marketing and promotion to succeed and how most apps fail because they don’t spend enough time or money on marketing.
Sure, you may detest marketing and unless you’re very lucky you probably don’t have App Pro’s recommended average $30K marketing budget in spare change to promote your app, but getting your voice heard doesn’t need to cost you a fortune. If your app has a niche, find websites and journalist related to that niche and drop them a line. Put together a press pack on why people like us should talk about it and don’t be afraid to invest a little money into PR and advertising online. This really can be the difference between success and failure and sometimes all it takes is one article by one person to start the snowball effect.
8. They Use Psychological Pricing
The best selling paid apps on the app market all cost $0.99 or £0.69 in the UK. While not wishing to spend the next two thousand words getting into the specifics of psychological pricing strategies the reason for this is simple. The lower prices, especially when given an odd number are used to drive greater demand based on the principle that the lower value integers will be ignored.
Of course, you can opt to do the opposite of this and market a product on exclusivity, the delightfully perverse and sadly vanquished $1000 I Am Rich app is the first to come to mind, while the expensive but excellent TomTom app comes with a hefty price tag and big brand sponsorship that ensures it succeeds as a luxury app. You need to decide on your pricing strategy early and if you can’t decide on one your app should cost $0.99; anything more and you risk pricing yourself out of the market, especially when first starting out.
Image Source: tomfedro.com
9) They Are First To Market
As the technology in smartphone devices adapts and improves the prospect of creating new and exciting apps advances with it. Ideas like alarm clocks and torches aren’t new, but the difference between being the first to market on a new platform and coming in a close second can be huge when it comes to how many apps you sell. If you monitor the new additions expected on the iPhone 5, you’ll know that certain niches will open up and the apps that are first to utilize and exploit these trends will perform very well. Check out our previous articles on what the influence of HTML5 will mean for iPhone gaming , the most influential features of the iOS 6 platform and what the iPhone 5 rumours could mean for the app market for a little inspiration on how you can create an app that evolves with the technology available to you.
10. They Adapt
In business and in life adaptation is critical to success. If you aren’t constantly updating your app, adding new features and ideas, listening to your customers, learning from your mistakes and pushing these new developments onto your current users, they will get bored and move on. I won’t use an example of an app that has done this, as you and Google won’t know their names; instead I’ll remind you of the tragic tale of MySpace. Once upon a time, everyone was a friend of Tom, and Tom was the creator of the world’s leading social network. This network was sold to the Rupert Murdoch-run News Corporation in July 2005 for $580 million and at one point was even receiving more traffic than Google, but by 2011 it was sold for a fraction of the cost at $35 million. The failure of MySpace was down to the fact that they refused to adapt with the times and even though they went through several redesigns, nothing really changed.
Despite the pathetic outcries of injustice and empty threats of abandon every time Facebook update their platform, the reason that Zuckerberg is the undisputed king of social media is down to the fact that he knows the only constant online is change. Facebook pilfers the best ideas from new social networks so that they won’t get left behind. Whether it’s buying Instagram, using a Twitter-like news feed or adding Facebook places to make Foursquare irrelevant, these adaptations ensure that Facebook’s core user base and our pathetically short attention spans aren’t swayed by the competition. The same goes for your app; unless you give your users a reason to come back time after time, why should they?
Too many app developers, successful or not, treat their apps as if they were a one-night stand. They have their fun, they make (or lose) a little money and they move on. The truly successful developers treat their apps more like children: they nurture them, they update them and they push them to succeed in new directions. The difference is that with one you will have a good story, with the other you could have an idea that changes your life, might make you millions and will occasional visit you in your care home when you’re old and grey; or at least pay for it. Adapt or die.