Mobile app development might be an increasingly popular profession – but the fact remains that, only a tiny fraction of the apps released every quarter are successful. In what follows, we will delve through some features that most successful applications share.
A recent study by Gartner revealed a startling statistic: Not even 0.01% of general mobile applications (i.e., consumer apps) manage to make money for their developers. In other words, about 1 in every 100 apps are able to emerge as any type of success. Is there some magic formula that boosts the chances of an application finding favor among final users? Not quite, but to be successful, a mobile app has to be:
- Able to address an issue – It might be a mobile game, an educational app for kids, a mobile social networking tool, a news feed app – the point is, an app needs to have a certain, specific purpose. It should be conceptualized and created in a manner that it addresses a precise requirement of users (and yes, passing the time is also a requirement). Generic apps that do not deliver any type of value are invariably flops.
- Not a me-too product – Particularly for new mobile app developers, the attractions of making a ‘me-too’ application can be high. After all, the task of cloning an already successful app is way easier than coming up with a new idea from scratch and working on it (hence, the existence of so many lookalikes of Candy Crush Saga at the app store!). If your app is too similar to an already existing one, people might not feel any need to switch over to your product. Its initial downloads will remain low.
- Visually appealing – And this is the main reason why coders should not try to dabble in the visual aspects of mobile applications. UI/UX designing is a specialized field, a domain reserved exclusively for expert graphic artists and animators. The creative team has to come up with appropriate, interesting splash screens, icons, buttons, text and other visual elements of an app. Choosing a nice name for an application is also an important task. For making a mobile game, hiring the services of a professional animator is essential. A dull app never works – no matter how useful it might be.
- Engaging – If an app is ‘one and done’, its popularity will wane before long. Consider the example of mobile games for kids that are too easy, and can be completed within minutes. These apps have no further ‘use’, and are likely to be uninstalled from devices soon enough. Your app needs to keep users engaged on a continuous basis – i.e., its utility should not diminish over time. Release updates (with app extensions and new features) on a regular basis. Never allow your app to appear static.
- Bug-free – This brings to the fore the issue of mobile app testing. The last thing any app company wants is bugs to be detected in its applications by end-users. A flurry of bad reviews and complaints would ensue, and the overall reputation of the company will also take a hit. Prior to release, every app needs to be thoroughly tested – on simulators, as well as on actual devices (the latter might not be possible for Android apps though). In case a bug does remain undetected, a bug-fix update has to be released as soon as possible.
- Protective of users’ privacy – Unless a user specifically wants, a mobile app should not reveal his/her name, location, address, or any other personal information. This factor is even more important when we are talking about Android or iPhone apps for kids. People should be able to share as much (or as little) of his/her information as they want to. If an app comes across as too intrusive (always working with the mobile GPS, for instance) – rest assured, people will stay away from it.
- Not a bandwidth hog – There is quite a bit of confusion among mobile app developers as to what the ideal average bandwidth requirements of an application should be. Not going into the debate, the rule of thumb should be creating an iPhone/Android app that does not take up too much of the mobile bandwidth/data services – rendering the device slower than usual in the process. There should not be additional network charges either. Such glitches affect the user-experience, and the fallout is never good news for developers!
- User-friendly – Most, if not all, apps come with a page/pages of user-instructions. It would be way too naive to assume that everyone will spend (read: waste) time to actually learn how to use the app, by reading through these instructions. Explain the operations, controls and overall functionality of your app quickly to users (use the app description section during submissions judiciously) – so that the latter can start using it right after downloading. The menus, tabs and overall in-app navigation should be uncomplicated and self-explanatory. Custom mobile apps for kids should be operable by children on their own. Never make things too difficult for your targeted users.
- Fast – When it comes to any form of mobile technology, speed matters. One of the very first things that users note about an app is how long it takes to load completely. If the splash screen, for instance, remains visible for 10 seconds or more, a person is extremely likely to run out of patience. The user-interaction time with apps was always short – and with the arrival of Apple Watch (WatchKit apps) and other wearables, it is going to get even shorter. A slow, laggy app will simply not cut it.
- Regularly upgraded – Ever wondered why mobile app companies release periodic updates to their apps (including the popular, successful ones)? The reason is simple: they do not want their applications to appear as stale/dated to users. Apart from bug fixes (if required), upgrades generally have interesting new features and properties. An app might have generated high initial downloads, but if you have not bothered to release upgraded versions of it for years, it has probably already been crowded out.
- Compatible with the latest devices – If an app indeed manages to capture the attention of a user, only for the latter to find that it is not compatible to his/her device – that would be a shame. iOS app developers have it relatively easier in this regard, since they have to test their apps on iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus only (in addition with the older iPhone versions that would be supported). Testing the compatibility of Android applications is much more challenging – owing to the sheer range of vendors and devices. Remember, app testing on simulators only is not enough – they have to be tested on actual devices.
- Secure – We have already discussed the importance of the general privacy of app users. With the growing popularity of mobile payment gateways like Apple Pay, the steady user-base of Google Wallet, and the soon-to-release Samsung Pay – data-security has emerged as another must-have factor in mobile shopping apps. Even in general freemium apps (i.e., free-to-download apps with in-app purchase options), you need to explain how the users’ transaction/financial/account data will be securely stored. If the security factor of an application appears suspect, people will run a mile from it!
- Completely customizable – Right from adjusting the brightness settings and the layout colors, to changing the notification system and altering the volume controls – users need to have a free reign in the apps they download. Apart from from visual and auditory elements, people should also be able to personalize the app content. For instance, in a news feed app, a user should have the freedom to choose the channels from where (s)he would like to get updates.
- Kind on the phone battery – Much like the phone bandwidth issue, a successful app never causes additional battery drain on devices. Most contemporary smart devices allow users to find out how their device battery is being consumed – and if your app is found to be causing the battery to get exhausted too quickly, it will be deleted immediately. Keep in mind, smartphone users want to get that extra bit of battery juice – and your app must not be doing just the opposite.
- High on quality and not too expensive – In the world of software and mobile app development, users can take two picks out of three parameters – Quality, Time and Price. Given that you have to finish projects within specified deadlines, it boils down to a direct trade-off between the quality of the app and its cost figure. You need to perform the balancing act of providing top-quality apps, at reasonable prices. Failure on either count (particularly the quality aspect) will put your app on the backfoot.
Never be in a race to finish off each app project as quickly as possible, and move on to the next one. Include some element in your applications that would ‘surprise’ users (top-class animations, additional functionalities, etc.) – which would serve as the app’s wow-factor. Developers generally advise making mobile apps for both the iOS and Android platforms, for maximizing their chances of success. The importance of focused mobile app marketing, via the World Wide Web (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Behance, app review sites, etc.) cannot be overemphasized either. A perfectly good app can fail, if people are not aware of its existence!
Please note that an app with all the above features is not a guaranteed success. However, app developers who incorporate these points definitely have more chances of tasting success than those who don’t.