The Success FormulaHow To Succeed With Your Mobile App

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Most apps fail. This cruel reality has led many disillusioned developers to conclude, often subconsciously, that succeeding on the App Store is like striking it rich in the gold rush: you just need to get lucky.

The App Success Formula.

The idea of luck is a dangerous sedative to ease the pain of failure. Pain is a good thing. It shows something is wrong. If my app fails, I want to know why. Instead of blaming forces beyond our control, why not look at what folks like tap tap tap1 and Tapbots2 are doing to succeed again and again and again.

While applying this formula flawlessly is nearly impossible, working towards it will dramatically increase your chances of success. These concepts are based on the iOS platform, but many of the principles apply to other platforms as well.

Idea

Any successful app rests on the foundation of a solid idea, because the idea determines the ultimate potential of the execution. Avoid the temptation of jumping straight into execution after having an epiphany in the shower. A little bit of research up front can save you a lot of pain down the road.

Find a Vacuum

Vacuum

Phill Ryu (@phillryu3) has an impressively consistent track record of top apps: Clear, The Heist and Classics, to name a few. His secret for validating ideas is pretty simple: find a vacuum. The App Store houses a plethora of quality, user experience and innovation vacuums. Vacuums are cool because they inherently want to be filled. A few examples:

Clear, Tweetbot and iTranslate Voice.
Clear, Tweetbot and iTranslate Voice.

Clear: among thousands of to-do apps, Clear (by Realmac Software) filled a user interface (UI) innovation vacuum. Entering a crowded category seems counter-intuitive, but the biggest categories provide the biggest opportunities if you can innovate within them.

Tweetbot: Twitter bought Tweetie and dumbed it down to appeal to the masses. Tweetbot filled the Twitter power user vacuum.

iTranslate Voice: The release of Siri intrigued the world, instantly generating a vacuum for apps like iTranslate Voice that behaved like Siri but offered different functionality. Every new technology introduces a new vacuum along with it.

For sure, the low-hanging fruit is gone, but there are still tons of vacuums out there, particularly in the design department. Find a vacuum that you are passionate about and fill it.

Show Me the Money

Most apps don’t make money. If revenue is important to you, it is worth exploring what kind of apps make money and what kind of apps don’t. Building on Marco Arment’s theory of two app stores4, I postulate that three categories of apps make money, and one category doesn’t.

Apps can be divided into categories by profit per user and number of downloads.5
Apps can be divided into categories by profit per user and number of downloads. Large view6.

Hit Apps:

  • High volume, low price;
  • Appeal to almost everybody, targeting impulse purchasers who browse the top charts and featured lists;
  • Huge launches based on intense marketing campaigns;
  • Require tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of downloads to generate significant profit.

Examples: Clear ($3) and iTranslate ($1).

Premium Niche Apps:

  • Low volume, high price;
  • Target a serious niche;
  • Users find the app through thorough research and are willing to pay big bucks to improve their lives;
  • A large profit per user makes traditional customer acquisition methods (i.e. pay-per-click ads) viable and scalable.

Examples: OmniFocus ($10) and Proloquo2Go ($190).

Premium Hit Apps:

  • High volume and high profit per user;
  • The only viable space for funded startups that need to turn a big profit;
  • Rare but rewarding.

Examples: TomTom GPS ($50), Pandora (monthly $3.99 subscription) and freemium games that make a huge average profit per user through addictive add-ons and credits.

Most Apps Fail:

  • Low volume and low profit per user;
  • Even if such an app garners some attention, the limited appeal and low price limit significant success.

Developers read inspiring stories of app millionaires, look at the astounding number of devices being sold every day and develop grossly optimistic back-of-the-napkin download projections for their relatively niche apps. They conclude that if they could only capture a fraction of a percent of the market, they could sell their app at $0.99 and make a fortune.

It just doesn’t work that way. The brutal reality kicks in when the first day of sales generates six downloads, mostly from friends and family. The app idea might have scratched their itch, but it was just too niche to be a hit.

Your app idea probably falls into this category. Don’t ignore this.

Building an app that makes money is hard. David Barnard, the brilliant mind behind App Cubby, suggests that the future of sustainable revenues may lie in true freemium7, scaling the cost with the value derived. Generate lots of downloads and creatively find ways to let users who find more value pay more for it. These kinds of creative monetization ideas are relatively untested for non-game apps, but that’s what makes this industry so exciting.

Make a Statement

No, I mean, literally, write something down. Whittle your idea down to its core and create one sentence that defines your app and its target market. Apple does this for their internal apps and you should do it too.

For example:

“Grades shows college students what score they need to aim for on their next exam.”

If you cannot explain the basic value of your idea in one sentence, it’s too complex. Mobile apps need to focus on doing one task extremely well, because your target market must instantly desire your app after seeing one screenshot.

After defining the app’s core, check every feature idea against this core and remove the cruft.

Design

Apple’s culture revolves around design excellence. It’s no coincidence the apps Apple showcases are always well designed. Design is the most critical component in building a successful app.

Don’t Make Me Think

Like websites, apps are incredibly disposable. If an app doesn’t make sense immediately, users feel little pain in deleting it. The title of Steve Krug’s popular book8 encapsulates our task as usability designers: don’t make me think. Like a well-designed doorknob, the interface itself implicitly explains its own use and value.

A few points to that end:

Kill the Baby
Every cool feature idea inevitably adds complexity to the app. Strip the app, the screens and even the elements within each screen to their essence. Good design is more about saying no to good ideas than it is about generating them.

The to-do list app on the left let cool features get in the way of the core experience.<br />
Clear (right) questioned everything and only the essence survived.
The to-do list app on the left let cool features get in the way of the core experience.
Clear (right) questioned everything and only the essence survived.

Consider UI Conventions
Users have certain expectations about how the UI on their devices should behave based on the conventions they see in the operating system and the primary apps they use every day. Pay attention to the UI guidelines (iOS Human Interface Guidelines9, Android User Interface Guidelines10) and be sure to understand a convention before ignoring it.

In an attempt to look unique, the grade input interface on the left neglects basic navigation conventions. A similar screen from my app, Grades, applies a unique skin to familiar iOS interface conventions.
In an attempt to look unique, the grade input interface on the left neglects basic navigation conventions. A similar screen from my app, Grades, applies a unique skin to familiar iOS interface conventions.

Think Like a Human
Users have models in their head about the way the world works. Don’t design according to your database or programming limitations, but according to how the user thinks about things.

RedLaser’s scanning interface initially required users to take a picture of the barcode they were interested in (left). The app went viral when they changed the interface to match how a real barcode scanner works. Hover, beep, you're done (right).
RedLaser’s scanning interface initially required users to take a picture of the barcode they were interested in (left). The app went viral when they changed the interface to match how a real barcode scanner works. Hover, beep, you’re done (right).

Don’t Make Me Work
Users are lazy. They don’t want to read instructions and they hate typing. The best apps figure out the absolute minimum the user needs to do for the app to function.

TripIt is great but the opening screen offers little motivation for users to sign up. If an app works without an account, let users explore the app and sign up later; otherwise provide an appealing walkthrough to entice users to sign up like TuneWiki.
TripIt (left) is great but the opening screen offers little motivation for users to sign up. If an app works without an account, let users explore the app and sign up later; otherwise provide an appealing walkthrough to entice users to sign up like TuneWiki11 (right).

Do Usability Testing
Don’t let eye scanning and focus groups intimidate you. Do whatever you can! Most basic usability problems surface by simply getting the interface in front of some potential users. Ask a few questions (“what do you think this app does? How might you do X task?”), and watch them. Do it early and often throughout the entire design and development process.

Get Emotional

The sliding pane opening animation in Weightbot12, the humorous copy in Everyday13, the satisfying ascending charms when you check off items in Clear14; though offering little utility, these tiny details elicit a powerful emotional response. These apps exhibit a personality. You either love them or you hate them, but you definitely don’t forget them and you are much more likely to share them.

Usable isn’t good enough any more. The best apps go the extra thousand miles to pay attention to the details that make an app enjoyable. Simon Schmid wrote a thorough treatment on emotional design15, but here are some basic points relating to apps.

Visuals Matter
Beautiful apps sell better, are more enjoyable to use and feel more valuable than bland apps. Though beauty can be found in rich gradients, textures and shadows, strive for the subtler attributes of elegance, readability and tasteful layout. Use skeuomorphism (UI that mimics physical objects) only where it enriches the experience and doesn’t distract from it. If you’re unfamiliar with basic graphic design principles, The Non-Designer’s Design Book16 by Robin Williams is a great place to start.

Paper for iPad by Fifty Three.17
Paper18 for iPad by Fifty Three.

Experiment With Sound
Sound in a UI is a delicate, powerful and largely unexplored tool. Experiment to see if sounds can improve your app.

Tapbots’ apps beep, click and buzz just like you would expect from robotic controls.
Tapbots’19 apps beep, click and buzz just like you would expect from robotic controls.

Touch Is Magic
Apple’s engineers don’t stop working until their products feel right. It’s why the first iPhone’s bouncy scrolling “scrolls like butter.” If an object doesn’t respond immediately to the touch, it reminds you that you are using a computer and not actually directly manipulating the object.

All pictures and objects in Our Choice can be directly manipulated with your fingers.
All pictures and objects in Our Choice20 can be directly manipulated with your fingers.

Gestures can provide a powerful connection between the interface and the user but can also be frustratingly undiscoverable if not implemented correctly. Experiment with new interactions and don’t stop working until every interaction, transition and metaphor makes sense and feels right.

Spice Up Your Words
Users generally dislike instructional copy, error messages and notifications. Why not make their day by writing quirky, witty or maybe even humorous copy! Users will appreciate the unexpected pleasure.

In my latest app, Languages, a witty error message not only softened the blow of a download error, but made people want to tweet about the experience.
In my latest app, Languages, a witty error message not only softened the blow of a download error, but made people want to tweet about the experience.

Animate With Class
Whether it’s elements moving on the screen or transitions between screens, animation can express personality and give users a sense of continuity and polish as they navigate the app.

Users opening Weightbot for the first time enjoy watching the bot unlocking itself.
Users opening Weightbot for the first time enjoy watching the bot unlocking itself.

Don’t Neglect Your Icon
The icon is most people’s first impression of your app. It also occupies a space on users’ precious home screen. The best icons are simple but memorable; they stand out without being garish. The icon should look beautiful at large sizes, yet iconic enough to be recognized within an app folder on the home screen.

Clear’s icon stands out using a bright color scheme and one simple shape. The icon on the right has too many conflicting colors and shapes to be recognizable or attractive.
Clear’s icon (left) stands out using a bright color scheme and one simple shape. The icon on the right has too many conflicting colors and shapes to be recognizable or attractive.

Programming

Your technical choices influence the experience of the app, and thus, its success on the App Store.

Go Native

The “build once, deploy everywhere” method is a terrific recipe for mediocre apps.

To start, the method itself is a myth. Different operating systems have different UI conventions and patterns. With the exception of games where a custom interface is desired, one interface that deploys to all platforms results in a foreign experience on each platform.

Facebook tried HTML5 for years. When they recently switched to native code, they were able to improve performance by 200% and increase their average user rating from two stars to four stars.
Facebook tried HTML5 for years. When they recently switched to native code, they were able to improve performance by 200% and increase their average user rating from two stars to four stars.

At very best, we can build once and optimize everywhere. Apps like Zipcar21 have successfully used this approach. Unfortunately, Zipcar is an exception to the rule of suboptimal apps built using this approach. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Build once, optimize everywhere encourages a bottom-up design approach where the programming heavily constrains the design of the app. It stifles design innovation by tempting you to cut corners in order to satisfy the lowest common denominator.
  • Technologies like PhoneGap22 essentially turn your app into a browser window that runs JavaScript code. Avoid these. JavaScript apps tend to feel slow, choppy, unnatural and error-ridden because JavaScript just isn’t ready to match native experiences.
  • Tools like Appcelerator23 compile native code. These perform much better but still lack the flexibility and robustness of pure native code. Since you do not have direct access to the code that is running on the phone, errors can be more difficult to locate and squash. They can also make it difficult to implement new technologies right away, giving you a disadvantage against competitors who can tie into new technologies from the day they are announced.
  • The bottom line: choose your technology based on the design, not your design based on your technology. Design your apps for the various platforms first. Then see if something like Appcelerator is capable of executing those designs without compromise.

For an in-depth view of cross-platform trade-offs24, read Aral Balkan’s comprehensive treatment on the subject.

Code Quality Matters

While perfectly-formed, well-documented code does not directly affect the user, it certainly affects your ability to push out timely, robust updates, something that can be critical to continued success.

In addition, laggy, bug-ridden code definitely affects the user. The user doesn’t care if there is a good reason why the app crashed or deleted their data — it’s still the brand’s fault. I have seen cases where this alone has stolen the thunder out of the launch of otherwise promising apps.

Hourly rates can be deceiving. In the time it takes a poor coder to build one component sloppily, a quality coder can build three components robustly. If you decide you don’t like the poor coder, a new coder will most likely have to start from scratch because the legacy code only makes sense to its author. On the other hand, quality code can be reused and built upon easily.

Marketing

If you have a marketing department, good for you, but grassroots marketing by a developer or a designer can often be even more effective. Believe me, when I started, my name didn’t mean anything to anybody that mattered. Now my work has been featured by Apple, Mashable, TechCrunch, The Huffington Post, Fox News and dozens more. All this without spending a dime on marketing, aside from a few website costs.

Start Early

Many developers think of marketing as something to do after an app launches. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A huge launch is critical, especially for inexpensive apps. If your launch does not propel your app into the top charts, the app will most likely fade into oblivion almost instantly amidst the thousands of apps launching every week. An app that is not on a top chart is nearly invisible to most consumers.

After the launch, a review here and there doesn’t help much to propel your app up the charts. It’s just the way the App Store rankings work. Ranking algorithms constantly change but they are roughly based on sales in a window of time, say four days, weighted towards the latest day. This means that marketing you do today will not affect your ranking a week from now, making fragmented press all but worthless. Only concentrated marketing blasts work. The launch constitutes your number one chance to show your app to the world in a concentrated way.

With this in view, App Savvy25 author Ken Yarmosh characterizes the marketing of apps as a crescendo. Marketing an app should start at the very beginning and continually develop as it consummates in a huge launch blast.

Make Friends

Connections are everything. They power your marketing machine. No connections means no warm doors, and, with thousands of apps vying for press attention every week, a warm door is gold.

I have created Twitter lists of Apple employees, members of the press and remarkable iOS developers to help me find opportunities to connect. Feel free to use them!
I have created Twitter lists of Apple employees26, members of the press27 and remarkable iOS developers28 to help me find opportunities to connect. Feel free to use them!

Connect With Apple Employees, Tech Writers and Influential Designers and Developers in the Community
Realize that actual human beings run companies like Apple, TechCrunch and tap tap tap. A lot of these people are really cool and love to meet and promote people with great products and ideas. Make a list of people to connect with and actively seek opportunities to do so.

Go Where They Are

  • Twitter is a good place to start — nearly every influencer in the tech industry tweets.
  • Commenting on influential blogs or emailing the author can be a great way to initiate contact.
  • Face-to-face connections are the most powerful, so be sure to hit up the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and other conferences that the Apple community tends to congregate at. Local meetups are also a great place to meet people.

Be Cool, Don’t Spam
Just because you get the opportunity to talk to someone doesn’t mean they are instantly interested in your pitch. Build a meaningful connection first. Then they’ll be asking you what cool things you’re up to. When you do show off some work, do it in the way of seeking advice and feedback rather than pitching. It comes off better and often elicits great feedback.

Give and You Shall Receive
Build meaningful connections with people by getting into their mind and thinking about their needs and wants. Maybe an influential person asks a technical question on Twitter that you know the answer to, or writes a post you have thoughts on. Be sure to respond! Do this a few times and they might just notice. Finally, remember that people have egos — be sure to let them know when you appreciate their work.

Post Interesting Stuff
Link to insightful articles and maybe even write your own blog with the things you learn about. People love to read honest journaling and analysis of apps. Websites like iDevBlogADay29 promote your articles to the community.

Build Buzz

You don’t want your launch to fall flat, so a few weeks before launch, start revving up the hype machine. The idea is to build up a fan base who will be the first to download your app on launch day.

Teaser websites like this one can help build anticipation and collect email addresses.30
Teaser websites like this one can help build anticipation and collect email addresses. Large view31.

  • Set up Twitter and Facebook accounts for your app. This gives potential fans an easy way to follow and mention your app. Use the account to post sneak peeks, updates on progress and contests. You can even use the account to follow people you think might be interested in the app. They’ll see you’re following them and might even check the app out.
  • Build a teaser website with a form to sign up to your mailing list. Include something to entice people — an attractive Web design, a beautiful screenshot and maybe even a video.
  • Create a video. Nothing builds buzz like a well-done video. The buzz behind the Clear video32 exemplifies that. It’s also an easy way to show the press what your app is all about.
  • Run a private beta. Your beta testers will be your biggest fans going into launch because they feel invested in the development of the app.

Get Featured

After winning an Apple Design Award, my app was featured in nearly every tech publication I had ever hoped for, but all that press combined generated fewer downloads than when Apple featured it.

So how does one get featured by Apple? Thousands of apps come out every week, and only a select few find a place on the App Store homepage.

Only a small number of apps are featured on the Apple App Store homepage.33
Only a small number of apps are featured on the Apple App Store homepage.

First, the app has to be “featureable.” It must interest Apple in some way. Does it have a polished design? Does it show off the Apple platform? Is it something you cannot find on other platforms? Any of these characteristics boost your chances. The good news is that out of the thousands of apps coming out, very few feature the kind of design discussed here, making it relatively easy to stand out.

Second, you need to get Apple’s attention. Making connections within Apple can be invaluable. As a general rule, though, you need to make your own splash before Apple will make you a bigger one. Apple has an editorial team. They find apps to feature. You need to get to the places they are looking. Based on my experiences, they probably look at new apps that are “charting” — moving up the charts. For that, you need to generate a good number of launch-day sales. It takes at least a few hundred sales to chart in most categories. Besides that, think of the places you might go to find new quality apps; they probably visit the same websites.

Pitch the Press

Press reviews help establish credibility, an initial stream of downloads and visibility to influential people or Apple employees. Seek press attention at least a week or two before launch — these people are busy and you want to try to have reviews lined up to publish on launch day.

Getting the press to review your app is an important part of a good marketing strategy.
Getting the press to review your app is an important part of a good marketing strategy.

This is the part where you contact all those really great friends you’ve made within the press and tech community, giving them a sneak peek of your app and asking if they want to hear more.

After exhausting your warm doors, start cold calling. Have a story, keep it short, make it personal and don’t forget to follow up.

Build a Fan Base

The most powerful app company is one with a fan base. Sonico Mobile34, a partner on our latest app, Languages, recently released an app called iTranslate Voice. The app became an instant #1 hit with very little promotion from the press or Apple. How? Sonico advertised iTranslate Voice to their 30 million strong iTranslate user base and sent out an email to their massive mailing list.

All of Sonico's apps allow users to easily follow the company on Twitter or subscribe to their mailing list.
All of Sonico’s apps allow users to easily follow the company on Twitter or subscribe to their mailing list.

A fan base takes time to develop. Be sure to make it easy for fans to join your mailing list, like your Facebook page and follow your Twitter account. In addition, consider a mass-market free app as part of a strategy to gain millions of fans. Ad bartering services like Swappit35 allow you to build up ad impression credits and use them all at once on a big launch.

Conclusion

Success is measured in different ways. The first version of Grades made less than $10,000, but it was a stepping-stone to an Apple Design Award, and dozens of invaluable connections. Now our company is positioned to launch top-selling apps like Languages, which is more than making up for Grades pecuniary issues.

Monetary success is hard, but it gets easier as you go. As you consistently produce quality apps, your brand becomes recognized by the press and Apple, your team gains critical hands-on experience and you develop a fan base. This is definitely a long-term game, but the payoff can be incredible. It’s a great feeling to know that millions of people are enjoying the fruit of your hard work. Learn the lessons, don’t compromise and make a dent in the universe.

(cp)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://taptaptap.com/
  2. 2 http://tapbots.com/
  3. 3 http://www.twitter.com/phillryu
  4. 4 http://www.marco.org/2009/10/09/the-two-app-stores
  5. 5 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/diagram3.png
  6. 6 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/diagram3.png
  7. 7 http://appcubby.com/blog/the-sparrow-opportunity/
  8. 8 http://www.sensible.com/dmmt.html
  9. 9 http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/#DOCUMENTATION/UserExperience/Conceptual/MobileHIG/Introduction/Introduction.html
  10. 10 http://developer.android.com/guide/practices/ui_guidelines/index.html
  11. 11 http://www.tunewiki.com/
  12. 12 http://tapbots.com/software/weightbot/
  13. 13 http://everyday-app.com/
  14. 14 http://www.realmacsoftware.com/clear/
  15. 15 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/07/18/the-personality-layer/
  16. 16 http://www.amazon.com/Non-Designers-Design-Book-The-Edition/dp/0321534042
  17. 17 http://www.fiftythree.com
  18. 18 http://www.fiftythree.com
  19. 19 http://tapbots.com/
  20. 20 http://pushpoppress.com/ourchoice/
  21. 21 http://www.zipcar.com/mobile/
  22. 22 http://phonegap.com/
  23. 23 http://www.appcelerator.com/
  24. 24 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/06/18/mobile-considerations-in-user-experience-design-web-or-native/
  25. 25 http://savvyapps.com/book/
  26. 26 https://twitter.com/jerols/apple-employees
  27. 27 https://twitter.com/jerols/best-of-the-press
  28. 28 https://twitter.com/jerols/remarkable-iphone-devs
  29. 29 http://idevblogaday.com/
  30. 30 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Screen-Shot-2012-10-11-at-5.56.19-PM.png
  31. 31 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Screen-Shot-2012-10-11-at-5.56.19-PM.png
  32. 32 http://www.realmacsoftware.com/clear/
  33. 33 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/featured.jpg
  34. 34 http://sonicomobile.com/
  35. 35 http://www.swappit.com/

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Jeremy Olson (@jerols) is founder and lead designer at Tapity, a tiny Apple Design Award winning app company. His latest app, Languages, launched to much acclaim from Apple and the press, and peaked as the fifth top paid app on the App Store.

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  1. 1

    “This is the part where you contact all those really great friends you’ve made…” – Awesome! Great tip!

  2. 2

    Hi Jeremy,

    Great read, thanks for the article.

    Plenty of app ideas here, but still have to develop and launch my first one the right way ;)

    Cheers

  3. 3

    Fabulously comprehensive article – great work Jeremy.

  4. 4

    I have to say JavaScript apps tend to be clunky because of mediocre developers not understanding the ins and outs of the language.

    So in essence you are safer with a native app yes, but don’t solely blame the language.

    • 5

      Enough already with the “it is not about the language”.

      You cant accuse Facebook Tumblr , Linkdn and other business engineers to be bad developpers.

      HTML/CSS/Javascript is slow ! manipulating the DOM to display content is slow ! computing anything with javascript on a mobile is slow !

      If you are serious about development and want to give the best experience , Go native. On mobile “it’s good enough” isnt good enough , when you have that level of competition. So either take your users seriously or go back producing HTML5 crapware.

  5. 7

    “build once, deploy everywhere” method is a terrific recipe for mediocre apps… >> Couldn’t agree more Jeremy.

    Very insightful and I share very similar views. Keep up the great work.

  6. 8

    When you pitch the press, make it as easy as possible for them to paraphrase the app’s functions, benefits to the user, and overarching company values. If “what it does” can be summarized in a tweet-sized chunk, then you’re prepared to let journalists spread the word.

    Great article!
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  7. 9

    The funniest thing about “go native” is that even now FB app isn’t fully native. Most pieces like timeline, news feed and many more are still HTML.

    In any case the article is pretty awesome. Thank you.

  8. 10

    One of my favorite articles on Smashing! Very insightful and inspirational!
    Thank you!

    Cheers,

    Tyler

  9. 11

    Great post. Even though there’s not really any “new” info, I like how it is presented and the examples help. Love that you mentioned the Marketing Crescendo.

    What I can think of immediately and might be missing:
    – building mechanics that allow people to easily share your app
    – make it easy for people, within the app, to reach out to you and rate (well) your app

  10. 12

    Great article. Thanks!

  11. 13

    I have a great app idea
    There is a niche market
    I don’t have time to develop it
    Who can I trust to develop and crit the
    concept for me?
    Lets say the app has potential do you go it alone or do you go for a joint venture with the app developer?

  12. 14

    I understand this is an article about native apps but you talked about the FB moving from HTML5 to Native and I want to just clarify that even FB understands that Users will participate in the social aspects of FB any which way they choose so having a solution for Users to go to FB via a mobile web browser is necessary. Choosing to build an APP natively is best for all the reasons you state but I disagree with:

    “The bottom line: choose your technology based on the design, not your design based on your technology.”

    I believe you should be basing your design and technology decisions off of what the User wants and not telling them what they need to do. A great idea would be to have your product or service available on a website, optimized using HTML5 responsively for mobile devices, and then also utilizing the native iOS and Android APP platforms. This way you give the user the option to choose what they want to use, not tell them. Even FB is not doing this right.

    • 15

      Brian: you bring up a good point. Unfortunately I couldn’t discuss that issue in length but, depending on your market, the mobile web can be as important, if not more important, than the native app market. As you said, this article assumes you are building a native app.

      And when I say “choose your technology based on your design”, that is with the view that the design is based what users want. In some cases, starting with or supplementing with a mobile web app makes a lot of sense.

  13. 16

    Impressive article!
    Thanks for sharing all these tips and thanks for sharing your Twitter Lists :).

  14. 17

    Great article, very insightful, thanks for sharing!

  15. 18

    Dhilip, Barry, Gehan, Gary, Sarah, Ilya, Tyler, John, Perjan, and Gaston: Thanks for the kind words, guys! I’m glad you found it helpful.

    Sylvain: thanks! Those are definitely helpful tips and I’ll be sure to cover those in my book.

    Lavabeams: I think you are right to a certain degree but I have yet to see examples of Javascript apps performing and behaving in a way that matches native performance. I would be happy to be proved wrong though! Would love to see some great JS examples.

    Craig: so the first step is to figure you if your niche idea has the potential to make money. The first part of this article should help with that. It might be worth talking to others about the idea or talking it over with a seasoned app developer to get some thoughts on if it has potential. I would be happy to with you on Clarity (my go-to one-off consulting session app): https://clarity.fm/#/jeremyolson

    Once you’ve determined if it can make money, you have three routes: learn everything it takes to go it alone, partner with people who are passionate enough about the idea to do an equity relationship, or raise enough money to hire people. You will need design and development skills (assuming you will take care of marketing/business) and they generally are not found in the same person so this all can be quite a tough endeavor, but David Barnard has done well without knowing how to design or program so it is possible.

    Bottom line, though: it definitely ain’t easy. Apps are a hot market so good designers and developers are very hard to come by and if all you are bringing to the table is an idea, you probably won’t find anyone good because we would rather work on our own ideas and take 100% than develop your idea and take 50% or even 75%.

  16. 20

    The most irritating thing for developers is that some apps, like Paper, are featured on App Store main page very very often.
    Other apps, like procreate, which is for sure much better than Paper, was featured only 1 or 2 times.

    Of course to get any chance to be featured, app must be beautiful, fast, with interesting features. But even great, fast, beautiful app can be ignored by apple.
    Other apps, which has been low in any rank for a long time were one day featured on main page, for example game Trainyard in 2010. And this start incredible carreer of the game and its developer

    Conclusion – you need also a lot of luck to succeed on the App Store.

    • 21

      Sly: four out of four of my products have been featured prominently by Apple. That includes my first product, Grades, released when I was literally a nobody in the app world.

      You may call that luck, and I certainly admit that serendipity and whim plays a roll, but I took very definite steps to try to get my apps featured by Apple. It starts with a great product that is the kind of product Apple likes to feature… but then you need to get Apple’s attention turned to that great product. There are definitely ways to do that, some of which I have talked about in the article.

      Just as in any endeavor, luck plays a roll, but there are definitely ways to reduce your dependence on luck in the App Store.

  17. 22

    Antonio Giarrusso

    November 8, 2012 8:19 am

    I love every part of this post and I agree on everything. I will definitely hang this on the wall in my office.

  18. 24

    Sylvain and Brian both provide strong suggestions.

    Jeremy, thank you for this article. It’s a great piece of writing in terms or organization, focus and expression! The content is a gold-mine. I’m going to link this permanently on my law firm’s site and I’m going to make sure that my clients take a look at it.

  19. 26

    I have started my way into iOS programming two months ago and despite my voice is a whisper in the chain command I must admit that this article is very useful for me and, above all, has a well defined scope with accurate info.

    I want to be able to do all kind of work related to an app development. However, I believe I am missing some design bases. Your article reinforced my vision about the lack of my design bases (despite my beliefs that I can distinguish between a good design job and a poor design job) and showed me that I have a long path to follow before I can develop (by myself) a good app.

    Can you point me out some articles/books/people that influenced the way you think and ultimately led to this article (I added the The Non-Designer’s Design Book on my wish list) ? Or all of this knowledge was gathered only with experience? :)

    Keep up the good work,
    Tiago

    • 27

      Thanks Tiago! You’re right. Design is hard and it takes a long time to learn well. As a developer, I think it’s important to at least learn enough to have really great taste. Enough to know good design from bad, even if you can’t design something yourself. This will help you find a really great designer to work with and will help you be an awesome programming partner because, believe it or not, developers end up making micro design-decisions all the time without even knowing it. Knowing design principles will help you be a great programming partner for any designer.

      As for learning app design, check out Josh Clark’s work. His book “Tapworthy” is great.

      Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.

      About Face.

      The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garret.

      Those are some of my favorites. At the end of the day, though, I probably learned the most from looking at other’s work and also actually practicing design. Practice is so important if you want to get good. Do design and put it up where the public can see it and give you feedback.

  20. 28

    Great article Jeremy

    It’s inspiring to read about your learnings :)

    We (Itatake.com) made a game called Pebble Universe for iOS a while back. We’re a mini-company in Sweden and ”Pebbles” is our first game. We got great reviews from the press and the players, but as you mentioned, without Apple backing you up it’s hard to get to the top and we did not have the budget to do any traditional (spending a lot of money) marketing. We got some traction from the press but sadly we did not manage to get in touch with any Apple people, yet…

    Your article was a great read and it’s telling me that we did many things right but we can and will do better.

    Thank you,
    Mattias Granat

    • 29

      Hey Mattias, yeah definitely don’t give up! Keep making friends and building awesome stuff. At some point Apple will inevitably notice.

  21. 30

    Thank you! Very interesting article.

  22. 31

    This article has some interesting bits of wisdom for developers to consider. I especially engaging: “Any successful app rests on the foundation of a solid idea, because the idea determines the ultimate potential of the execution.” Thanks!

    Kate
    katemats.com

  23. 33

    Adrian Sanchez del C

    November 13, 2012 4:00 pm

    Jeremy, thank you for such an informational and inspirational article.

  24. 35

    An excellent insight to the reality of the App “Gold Rush”. Working with many agencies, the marketing aspect always seems to be a distant second to developing the app first. Interestingly enough you now can optimize the app inside the app store using simple seo methods.

  25. 36

    Cool piece, I find it hard to having any meaningful conversations with an signifcant people on twitter, etc. Even with just simple questions not many people want to answer. Everyone is too busy I guess. I’m a resident working 80 hour weeks and moonlighting on the side to develop a simple app and I can correspond but everyone is is “too busy” to respond. Anyway to really get peoples attention just for a simple question.

    • 37

      Maybe try traditional email (with a follow-up or two).

    • 38

      Hey Adrian,

      I think you need to think about it in a different way. Instead of trying to get them to answer your questions, think about how you could answer their questions. Instead of trying to get benefit from them, think about how they might benefit from you.

      So someone writes an article. Tweet them saying what you like about it. You have given them benefit by stroking their ego. After that, you might have them engaged. Get into a conversation. Be persistent and this might turn into a friendship.

    • 39

      Or maybe use Stackoverflow.com as that’s a far better place to get a response for questions relating to software development.

  26. 40

    Really enjoyed your piece. I would like to begin developing an app, however I do not have the technical skills to be productive, do you have any ideas on where I could find someone to work with?

  27. 41

    You are most powerful site builder. I like your site. Go on boss.

  28. 42

    could you give me a reputable persons contact details to discuss development of an idea for an app i have no computer skills and little cash thanks

  29. 43

    Jeremy Olson, this sir… is very helpful! thank you.

  30. 44

    Insightful, honest and invaluable.
    Thank you so much :)

  31. 45

    Matthijs Hollemans

    January 25, 2013 12:46 pm

    Excellent article! There is a lot more to making apps than just programming. :-)

  32. 46

    Great article! I’ve just shared on my Linkedn account.

    Best,
    Javier.

  33. 47

    Interesting article. It’s healthy to give such a nice tips to mobile developers. Hence they can learn more about How to launch a successful app in today’s technology. Mobile apps! playing a vital role in day to day life. It’s a critical and bad thing that many apps are getting failure even-though the same hard work are done for the app as compared to successful one. I would like to give few tips from my side. I hope you can succeed with your mobile apps by using the above mentioned tips. Here are the ways to market your apps after launching the successful app with the tips mentioned.
    marialynette.hubpages.com/hub/Tips-for-marketing-your-Mobile-apps

  34. 48

    Mobile App Marketing is more important; you cannot skip if you a mobile application developer

  35. 49

    Love the advice! I’m soaking it all in as I start up. I don’t know how much you’ve heard about the Downtown Project in Vegas (fast growing incubator). You should definitely come out here!
    Once again, thank you, I’ll have to memorize all the elements you spoke about.

  36. 50

    Awesome article! Love these tips. I agree that native is always the best choice if you’re going for quality and user friendliness. And a very interesting point about using sounds in UI – something I hadn’t thought about but certainly will!

  37. 51

    Hi Jeremy,

    I find your articles very assuring, that it’s not all about luck in achieving certain level of success in the mobile apps industry, but hard work will get you somewhere, too. I will definitely read your articles over and over again, learn some things from each section, and how i can apply them.

    I’m currently based in ‘the land of the unexpected’ (Papua New Guinea), and hopefully something ‘unexpected’ too, will come out of this new venture of mine.

    Read an article about the Chad Mureta, can’t say that i was inspired, but it got me started thinking if i can come up with one good idea, too. Tried thinking of something that i would like to have on my Phone, what features it will have and how it will work for me as a regular mobile phone user. Thinking that if a regular guy like me would want it, i believe there will be at least a few hundred thousand ‘regular’ users out there would want the same!

    To cut the story short, started looking in apps stores and as expected, there are probably a hundred of them already, but nothing compares to what i had in mind. So here I am, for the past week and probably the next two weeks, i’m gathering as much information i can, on how to come up with a successful mobile apps, and later on cut my sources between 3-5 to focus on the most important aspects, in the design, interface, marketing, launching, and what not. Surely your articles will be one of those sources.

    I’ve contracted an apps developer for the apps, and i have between now and December to really come up with a good strategy to get my apps get noticed, and ultimately, achieve a certain level of success, money-wise. It’s good to learn from someone who’ve been there already. Many Thanks.

    Julio

  38. 52

    A very engaging article.
    Just a question about the UI convention … Does it mean to take into account theme of the basic UI of the device so that the app itself doesnt go too far for the feel of the UI??

  39. 53

    Hi Jeremy,
    Great article. Very useful for us who are developing apps.
    Thanks again for such a great article

  40. 54

    hi Jeremy,

    First of all would like to thank you for sharing such important knowledge bank on the marketing strategy to be adopted for launching mobile apps. I can understand that this article has brought out the experience of your complete entrepreneurial journey, brought out is such crystal clear thoughts in a which will help all the readers immensely. Presently I’m at the start of this journey and have taken note of this article which is going to play the most important role in the marketing strategy of my mobile application.

    Looking forward to get in touch with you , for your guidance and help.

  41. 55

    I think somebody published this post on another website as their own. http://designwebsiteblog.com/mobile/iphone-ipad/how-to-succeed-together-with-your-mobile-app.html

    Just wanted to let you guys know.

  42. 56

    Great tips shared on this post that would be very helpful for making app. Recently, I also found one interesting source on developing successful mobile apps, please check out this here: http://openxcellinc.weebly.com/blog/what-developers-must-learn-from-successful-mobile-apps

  43. 57

    Here’s an e-book that summarizes the best practices of ASO : bit.ly/16tuYbe

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