Mobile apps are a very important part of our everyday life.
We use them to stay informed, to connect with our friends and family, and for entertainment. According to Statista, there are over 2.7 billion smartphone users in the world. We use our phones for most of the day and 90% of this mobile time is spent using various apps.
The competition for mobile users’ attention is very harsh, as there are over 2.7 million apps in the Google Play store and 2.2 million in the App Store. But most of us use only 9 apps per day and 30 per month.
That means that there are countless apps out there that are not used by anybody - as there is no business need or the product is poor.
That’s one of the problems with easily accessible technology. We have an oversupply of software, while the user attention is limited. Usually getting your message across takes more time than developing the product.
To stand out from the crowd you need deep market research and great expertise in mobile app development. You have to be sure that your product is well-built and well-fitted to the market need.
How to make a successful app?
Key features of a successful app
A successful app combines three aspects in a smart way: market, user and the product itself. All these factors need to work together to give users a unique value, great usability, and good performance. Accessibility is the last but not least key feature of a successful mobile app.
So, what makes an app a successful one?
We can divide the features of such an app into two main categories: consumer-centric and business-centric.
- Nice design
- Well-thought-out UI & UX
- Covers key expectations & needs based on how people use a specific service
- Stable, reliable workflow
- Provides sufficient level of data protection
- Offers quick access to service desk/help
- Encourages user retention
- Offers quick, hassle-free payments
- Data-breach protected
- Low cost of future development and maintenance
- Easy update procedure
Two examples of successful mobile apps
To show what I mean by “successful custom mobile app”, I’ll give you two examples.
Shine is the Best App of 2018 in the App Store and is used across 189 countries globally.
It is your personal self-care friend who you can share your thoughts and feelings with. The app’s users can make use of daily motivations, personal growth goals, and articles.
The app also offers engaging podcasts. It’s beautifully designed and has a great UX. Shine has built-in mechanisms that help engage users in achieving daily goals. For example, the app sends you a notification every morning with a meditation podcast relevant to your goal.
Brainly is the world’s largest e-learning app. Over 100 million students from 35 countries use Brainly every month.
The app uses advanced mechanisms based on Machine Learning that connect students posting tasks with experts that can help them. The app is beautifully designed, with a great focus on user flow inside the app. It’s very stable and reliable.
It is reflected in great reviews and ratings in both the Google Play Store (4.7 average and 479.4k total reviews) and the App Store (4.8 average and 3.9k reviews).
Source: Apple App Store
15 tips to make a successful mobile application
If you want to build a mobile application as successful as Shine and Brainly, you need to follow these 15 useful tips.
1. Identify your audience
First things first. You need to know who will use your app to make it successful.
It will help you to check the business potential of your app idea (the market need), as well as examine how to communicate with your target users audience (marketing message), and where to communicate (channels).
How to do it?
Search for stats and insights, check the trends, ask questions on the forums, conduct a poll, or build an MVP version of your mobile app and collect all the user feedback.
Check every source of knowledge available.
You can collect all demographic data e.g. sex, age, gender, location, and gather some information about your users’ behaviors and motivations (pains and gains). Then discuss your idea with people you think highly of.
Narrow down the target audience - the larger the group, the higher the upside for your product, but at the same time the higher the odds that there’s something wrong with your app idea. It’s easier to target an innovation towards a niche.
2. Offer value
A good idea for an app solves a specific problem recognised by a target group of potential users. Even the simplest form of entertainment, like the Candy Crush game, provides an outlet for stress and alleviates the boredom of the commute or standing in queues.
The application should bring an important benefit to the user so he is motivated enough to download it and use it.
Unique value may be related to the price of a given service, the speed of information transfer, the way the application works, or providing access to features or services unavailable from another channel.
A perfect app combines consumer needs, business objectives, and technological solutions in a smart way.
A good product has to be either fun or useful. Redundancy is good in nature. It’s always better if your app solves more than one problem. The most successful ones do.
Some people need comfortable, beautiful, and inspiring accommodation in places all around the world, while others want to rent their flat to foreigners with cash to spare.
3. Define your business model
App developers worldwide mainly choose to monetize their apps by using various advertising-based business models. Video ads are one of the most popular revenue stream. In-app purchases are also very popular amongst business owners. But there are many other business models to choose from.
Every mobile app business model has its advantages and drawbacks. To choose the one that fits your needs, it is good to start with analyzing what your competitors are doing. If it worked once, it may work again.
Note that not every successful mobile app has to generate profits. There are categories of apps, for example apps for enterprise use, that have different benefits. Sometimes you build an app to save money or optimize a business process, not to bring direct revenue streams.
4. Define the scope of features
It’s likely that you have spent some time thinking about the idea for your app. You have already visualised all the wonderful things it can do, all the features that might boost its functionality. Social sharing, notifications, payments, integrations - they all seem indispensable.
It may well be the case that they are all useful features, but it may be better if you forget about them for now. Each one of them will hinder the development of your core feature. If you focus on the wrong end of the mobile app development process, you will either lose time or quality.
You might even end up overlooking the core of the app idea. Think once again about the ultimate raison d’etre of your app. Boil it down to one sentence. And then focus on it. The rest will come with time.
An abundance of features may seem like a good idea, but it’s usually not. It only works for the contractors who want to pump up the value of their project. What users need is the simplest way to solve their problems.
Once you decide what the core feature of your app is, try to bring it to the fore in the clearest way. Each additional option, each personalisation, each integration will make it more difficult for your users to understand the value you provide. This also entails a real cost.
Not only is the development of more complex products more expensive, but you will also have to invest more time and money into customer support in the early stages.
Less is more. This is one of the key rules at the initial stage.
5. Choose the right technology
How a mobile app is built is as impactful on its success as the way it works. If you want to build a successful application, you need to choose the right technology. There are three main options you can choose from.
Option 1: Platform-Specific Native App
Native apps are coded for a specific mobile platform — iOS or Android. The programming language used to write these apps is supported only by the operating systems of those platforms. A native app can leverage your device’s hardware and functionality to a large extent, which elevates the user experience.
Option 2: Cross-Platform Native App
While you do lose some of the native advantages, this is still the most cost-effective approach if you are on a limited budget, but still want an app designed, optimized, and styled for more than one type of device.
Option 3: Hybrid App
A hybrid app is compatible with all devices and operating systems. Cost-effectiveness, portability and quick deployability are three major drivers of the popularity of the hybrid mobile app development approach.
However, keep in mind that you don’t get the advantages of native components and native interaction patterns, so you sacrifice some of the app’s user experience.
That being said, if you follow this approach for successful app development, you don’t need to write a different codebase for each platform. Instead, you can write one and use it on multiple platforms.
6. Design a simple and intuitive UX/UI
Design is one of the keys to an app's success.
This is true for both B2C and B2B apps. People want to use mobile apps with a simple yet intuitive UX and UI. For example, a simple UI doesn’t obstruct the data user consumes in the app. A snappy UI adds a good feeling when using the app, but remember that intuitive UX is crucial for ease of use.
There are many other benefits of well-designed UX and UI. A well-thought-out registration process leads to better user acquisition and higher download numbers. The same goes with well designed onboarding. When it's simple and understandable, then users will stick with your app and probably recommend it to new users.
And if you rely on in-app purchases, make it clear what the user will get from buying virtual goods. It will help skyrocket the conversion rate.
7. Select your design and development team
The quality of your product is a result of the ability, talent, and work of your app development team.
A single app developer can complete some projects, but you can also outsource the work to a development team or hire a full stack consultancy partner who will not only provide you with tech expertise but also support your market success.
Make sure that your development partner has a wide spectrum of skills, that they communicate effectively with each other, and, above all, understand the task you’ve given them.
8. Ensure your team is on the same page
Creative thinking and efficient project execution are difficult to pair. One should be verified with the other as often as possible.
Your first idea will inevitably be scaled down when confronted with technology during a scoping session, and you should be ready to compromise. That is why a clear definition of the core feature, the problem solved, and the target user group is so important.
Make sure each member of the custom software development team you are working with understands the product, how it is supposed to work, and how it is supposed to be useful or entertaining for the users.
App developers are passionate about the technology they work with, and they are a great source of ideas when you really involve them in the creative process. They are motivated by finding new, creative and efficient ways to apply their tools. You need to engage them in your vision and maximise their knowledge and skills.
9. Maintain high performance
Good is not good enough if you want your app to be successful.
According to the 2019 Mobile Usage Trends Report by Connecthings, two-thirds of mobile users clean up their phones at least once a month. It means that they get rid of apps they don’t need any more.
One of the main reasons for abandoning an app in 2019 is not being listened to. As Localytics research shows, app users who feel listened to based on their data are much more likely to continue launching an app. But performance is key to the success of your app. 88% of app users will abandon a mobile app if it has bugs and glitches, Qualitest research says.
And remember that users will hold you accountable for any problems that may appear while using your app. Not the phone manufacturer or the telco that provides them internet. Just you.
10. Ensure your app is safe
An unprotected mobile application poses a real threat to the entire system. And it is on our devices that we store and work on critical data such as payments, banking information, access keys, medical, personal data, etc.
There are many ways to sort out security issues. But ensuring mobile protection is not an easy process, especially when you have to identify a threat in a given app and define its security level yourself. Most common methods follow a standard security practice, others are adapted for mobile app development.
Basic standard security practices include:
- proper encryption of sensitive personal data, such as encryption of the local database, cache, or API communication
- correct cryptographic key management and user session authorisation (tokens)
- token validation - assigning one to each device separately and with different expiration times of sessions
- proper implementation of safe communication standards, e.g certificate pinning in the case of HTTPs
- and general OWASP-recommended checks that you can find in a mobile security review
11. Provide third-party integrations
Third-party services can enrich your app, increase user retention, and improve the overall user experience.
Take Google Maps for example.
Thanks to third-party integrations you can not only check the fastest way to get from point A to B but also see information about public transportation, learn about Uber prices for a ride to the destination you want to get to or even hail an Uber directly from Google Maps.
It’s a great way to boost the credibility of your app. Integrating it with what people already use makes it easy to offer a familiar experience. Use such integrations especially for improving conversion and increasing retention.
But don’t over-engineer third-party integrations. It’s always time-consuming to implement them, so think them through. It’s a shameful waste of resources if you develop an integration that only a few of your users will ever use.
Do your research right and be sure that the third-party integration will provide value for the majority of the users.
12. Plan a marketing strategy
We’re overloaded with information and content that surrounds us.
It's harder than ever to get the users’ attention and present the right sales arguments to convince them. That’s why you need to select the right marketing tools and language to promote your solution.
Sometimes getting your message across takes more time than developing the product. That is why you should start as soon as possible. Successful apps are promoted well before they hit the app stores. You can divide your marketing plan into 3 campaign phases: pre-launch, launch, and post-launch.
There are also a lot of tips already available which will help you to bring your marketing strategy to life.
13. Make regular updates
Building an app in the right way and marketing it properly are two parts of a three-part matrix of the successful mobile app. The last, but not least, part of the matrix is working on the app after its release, or maintenance.
If you’re building an app, you probably want it to stay on the market, right? So don’t forget about introducing constant improvements. Fix bugs. 37% of mobile app users indicated that they would stop using an app the moment they experience bugs like crashes, freezes or repeating errors, so make sure that every little bug is fixed instantly.
Also, develop new features and keep your app up to date. Thanks to that, users will see that you care about their experience. Constant updates also help you earn more from your app. Introducing new features and fixing bugs ensure better user retention.
Never forget about the most important reasons for apps being uninstalled. Watch the space your app takes in the device memory. Review the complexity of the user acquisition process (onboarding, registration forms, etc) and pay attention to the overall quality, performance, and security.
Remember that every year Apple and Google update their operating systems. Keeping your app coherent with recent OS changes is key. Sometimes it may mean pivoting some features or changing assumptions about your app. For example, adding a small (from Google’s perspective) feature like showing speed traps in Google Maps made apps focusing solely on that pretty redundant.
14. Upgrade based on feedback
If you want to be sure that the updates you introduce to your app are relevant for users, simply base your decision on data. You need to know how your product is used. Analyze that information and react to it as early as you can.
Define clear KPIs that will measure the success of your app. Measure as much as you can, but prioritize the KPIs you set. Implement a mechanism for providing more context about bugs for easy reproduction and fixes. Consider implementing a feedback form or an NPS prompt to ask users what they think. And report bugs as well.
Here are some mobile apps analytics platforms you may find useful:
15. Work on users retention
Analyzing all the data you collect and constantly updating your app has one main reason - user retention. Remember that 25% of users abandon an app after only one use. So make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your users satisfied.
Your user retention rate will drop if the app isn't engaging enough. There are certain mechanisms to engage your users. The most used are push notifications available on all platforms. For example, you can use notifications to remind users who downloaded the app but aren’t using it about its existence and how fun it is to use.
Onboarding, in-app messaging, and remarketing are other ways to ensure high user retention. But always think about it and try to find new ways to engage your users.
Remember to offer real value. If you don’t deliver any value to users, you will only cause frustration.
Building a successful app is not just an opportunity for a restricted clique of savvy engineers anymore. As a matter of fact, designers, innovative businessmen, and creative marketers are taking over the mobile application and web application market. If you have a great idea, but no software development skills, you can easily find a partner who will provide you with a world-class product.
Secondly, you don’t have to be technology-focused when planning your app business. You can find lots of guides on “how to develop an iOS app”, “what programming language is the future”, “which framework is the ultimate solution”. These are all important questions.
However, they do not make or break your project and if you have no tech background, you don’t have to know the answers to them. These are all problems that can be solved after a couple of conversations with an experienced project manager or a developer.
Thirdly, execution matters. If technology is not your expertise, you should not focus on it, because there are more important things to do. The most brilliant idea is worth much less than great execution. You just couldn’t describe it better than this. You need a plan, and you need to run it smoothly.
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