A lot has been said about mobile best practices and what not to do, so I thought it would be useful to add my two cents about what it takes to create a great app, or rather, how to not fail with your app.
Everyone can agree that the mobile landscape is constantly changing at breakneck speed, where trends are continuously recycled and apps live and die seemingly on a whim. Here are some observations I’ve gathered from the past year and what we can learn from them.
Failure Is More Likely Than Success
First, a dose of sobering reality: It is more likely that your app will fail than it will succeed. People only have a handful of apps that they use on a daily basis. It’s extremely hard for a new app to break into that circle and become a mainstay.
Even once-popular apps like Facebook Paper, Vine, and Flipboard are learning that the hard way. Barely clinging to life, Vine is a prime example of apps that are struggling to find a large, mainstream audience. While it has a healthy amount of creators and viewers, the numbers pale in comparison to what Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat command.
So what does this mean for companies looking to make their mark in the app world? Your app has to be absolutely stellar in terms of strategy, content, design, implementation, and marketing. These are all areas that are critical for your app to succeed. Apps that are half-baked or just okay in any of these areas will most likely die a lonely death in the app graveyard.
There Is Hope
Now that I’ve got you thoroughly depressed, let’s talk about how you can improve your chances of succeeding in the app world. While room for truly innovative apps has shrunk by a wide margin, there is still plenty of opportunity to create apps that gain traction over time. Here are some tidbits I’ve learned that will help you succeed.
1. Think Big, But Be Realistic
The sooner you’re able to set realistic expectations for your grandiose idea, the easier it will be later to pivot in case your idea doesn’t pan out. Everyone seems to think they’ll be the next Snapchat or Twitter, but more likely than not this won’t be the case. Don’t be tied down to one idea in case it doesn’t work.
2. Start Simple
I can’t tell you how many times a client has asked for a full list of 150+ features for an MVP product. It’s tempting to want every single feature for your first release, but realize that this will delay your initial rollout and deprive you of critical user feedback and validation.
One must think of a product in terms of phased releases with incremental updates and features, prioritizing the most important ones first. The quicker you get out of the mindset of “all or nothing” product releases, the sooner you’ll start creating stellar apps.
3. Prototype & Test
Before you go full steam ahead into creating your app, use prototyping tools like Invision to create high-fidelity concepts of your app. Throw it over to your own set of user testers or leverage usertesting.com. Quickly validate your ideas and concepts before you invest heavily in development.
4. Stay Focused
While you might think the more feature-rich an app is, the more it will appeal to users, the exact opposite is usually true. A mobile app should not have all the features of a website or desktop app. You have to consider the context of using a mobile app, which is usually on the go and with a limited attention span. Therefore having a highly focused and stripped-down feature set is almost always optimal.
5. Find Your Niche
Succeeding in a crowded app marketplace requires understanding your target audience as well as finding your niche. Understanding where your product fits in and not trying to appeal to every demographic and region is extremely important.
You might be asking: “Who wouldn’t want their app to appeal to everyone?”
The problem with this mindset is that starting with a target audience that is too broad makes it harder to focus the intent of your app and the problem you’re trying to solve. Remember, even Facebook started out as just a social network for college campuses before it took over the world.
6. Evaluate & Optimize
Once your app is released into the wild, your job is not done. This might seem obvious, but your designs and user flows should never be seen as final. Utilize tools like Apptimize, Mixpanel, or Optimizely to perform A/B tests and see how your app is performing on key metrics. Look at where your app is succeeding, where it’s failing, and optimize your user flows and designs accordingly.
There Is No Secret Sauce
A lot of people ask me “What is the secret sauce to making a great app?” or more commonly “Can you make me an app just like Snapchat?” Copying or cloning a successful app does not guarantee you success, rather, more likely than not it guarantees you failure.
If there is one element that is key to creating a successful app, it’s doing something better than everyone else, which is easier said than done. But no matter how much advice one can give on creating a great app, it almost always comes down to the core idea.
You need to ask yourself, “What problem am I solving for my users? How am I making their lives significantly better or easier?” If you can’t come up with a compelling answer, you need to think about why you’re making an app in the first place.