Steps to Making a Successful App

Steps to Making a Successful App

Many mobile apps are released on a daily basis, but very few of them gain traction among mobile users. Whether success is considered making a profit or growing a user base, only a few carefully considered apps are actually going to be downloaded, installed and used on a daily basis. Why is this? This article will explain this phenomenon.

Given the vast quantities of apps already available in the app stores, and new apps added daily, users have a virtually unlimited selection from which to choose.  To set up your app for success in this competitive market, app developers must take into account several factors that can determine the app’s future – From design and development to launch and post-launch marketing efforts,  all elements need to be just right. One of the most important factors to an app’s success is having a clearly defined set of goals and adhering to an overall strategy for the application.

In this article, we explore the development phase, launching your app and what you should be doing post-launch. By the time you’re done reading, you’re going to have a much better idea of all the work that needs to be done in order to successfully bring an app to market – no matter what type of app you are developing.

Development Phase

Type of App

One of the first things you’re going to want to consider is what type of app you’re going to make. Even if you have an idea of the type of app you want to develop, it’s still a good idea to look around at what apps are popular at the moment.  Here are a few websites and tools that can help you with your research.

Once you have a solid idea of the type of app you want to make, you’ll want to have an understanding about your app’s intended audience.  Identifying and learning about your target audience behaviors will help you market your app once it’s ready.  Some great targeting considerations include the basic demographic information such as age, gender, income and location. To cast an even wider net, you can plan to target users based on their level of interest in your app, rather than a specific demographic indicator. For example, let’s say you have a racing game. Instead of assuming it will only appeal to a small group of people (e.g., males of driving age), try to promote it in a bigger context. This way, instead of just targeting men within a specific age bracket, you can also target other groups that might respond to the game – men, women, grandparents, car enthusiasts, a game player who has recently played a similar-style game and speed-freaks alike.


Next, you’re going to want to consider which platform you’re going to launch your app on – or if you’re going to use HTML5 to make your “app” available via a web browser. The four major platforms are Apple iOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Phone and Amazon. Knowing the differences between all of them as well as the pros and cons of each is the best way to ensure you’re making a good decision about what platform to focus on.

In a perfect world, you would want to make sure your app is available on all four major platforms, but this isn’t always possible. When it’s not, you should look at your audience and try to determine which mobile platform they’re using the most. If all else fails, ask your audience what they would prefer. The answers they give will be very valuable as you make your decision.

Here’s a look at the four major mobile platforms with pros and cons of each.

  • Apple
    • Pro:  The iPhone users are generally financially well-off and have a disposable income – one they might spend to purchase your app or buy in-app upgrades. Over at Slate, they had an article showing maps of affluent areas with more iPhone usage than nearby areas where the median income was quite a bit lower.
    • Con:  Apple devices are not as ubiquitous as Android devices – an important factor if your app is location-specific.  You’ll want to focus on the devices that are popular in your desired territory.
  • Google
    • Pro:  Android devices are popular. According to ABI Research, they compose of 44% of the entire mobile market share, taking into account basic mobile phones as well.  You’re going to be able to cast a much wider net if you focus your  efforts on the Android platform.
    • Con: Fragmentation is still an issue so be prepared to support a variety of platform versions and smartphones.
  • Microsoft
    • Pro:  The new Windows Phone platform is gaining traction. The competition between developers to capture users isn’t as fierce compared to other platforms and more and more people are getting Windows devices.
    • Con: The new Windows Phone platform is still gaining traction.
  • Amazon
    • Pro:  Amazon is heavily pushing their tablets on their company site, building a huge base of users quickly. They also claim that 75% of the android apps tested work on Kindle Fire without making any changes.
    • Con: Market share is still the smallest of the four although the CEO announced they are at 200,000 apps currently, tripling their apps in a year of being in the market.

Currently, Apple and Google dominate the mobile market with their respective operating systems, but this may be changing.


Not all mobile application frameworks are created the same. When you’re trying to decide which one to use, it’s important to take a lot of things into consideration. The first thing to understand is that frameworks can have their own programming language. Corona, Marmalade and Unity3D are all examples of this. You develop the app with the framework and then can deploy to different platforms.

To decide while framework you want to use, you need to think carefully about the type of application you’re designing. For example, if you’re developing a new first person shooter (FPS) style game, you’re most likely going to want to use something like Unity3D which has what you’ll need built in. On the other hand, Marmalade or Corona might be more useful for other types of apps where you don’t need a lot of intense graphics. Below are some examples of what frameworks popular apps have been developed on at one point of their app development cycle.

  • Unity3D – The Room Two, Hitman GO, DEVICE 6
    • Good for first person shooters and other graphic intensive games.
  • Marmalade – Plants Vs Zombies, Bejeweled Blitz, Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies
    • A good choice for developers who are familiar with C++ already.
  • Corona – Fun Run, Major Magnet
    • Focused on game apps as well as a range of other types of apps using Lua as its coding language.
  • Titanium – Legoland Florida, Kelloggs Fiber Tracker, Green Dot Mobile
    • Good for teams well versed in javascript and general utility apps

App Design Style

Before you make any decisions about the design and style of your app, it’s a good idea to take a look at what’s currently popular. By checking out the App store listings for Apple, Google and Microsoft, you’re going to be able to see common traits that a lot of the top apps share (for example, simple graphics, easy gameplay and good music).

As you go through the top 10 lists for apps in different categories on different platforms, make a list of some of the trends you notice. By mimicking what’s already successful, you’re going to increase your chances of having a popular app that’s downloaded and used frequently. While you’re doing this research, make sure you remember that users of different types of apps may appreciate different things.

For example, gamers may be more interested in gameplay and music that’s not annoying while those who download utility applications may want no music and simple graphics that are easy to understand. As mentioned previously, knowing your audience as much as possible is the best way to make sure you’re developing an app that people will want to download and use on a daily basis.

Treat This Like a Business!

During the initial design phase of your application, it’s a good idea to start thinking about monetization strategies. This means understanding and planning for how you’re going to make money. The good news is that mobile apps offer quite a few different ways to monetize your mobile users. Here’s a look at some of the main ways to make money with your mobile app.

  • Subscription – One great way to monetize your app is to charge a subscription fee. The good thing about this method is that it can result in residual income that comes in month after month. Just be sure you watch your churn rate.      Apps that deliver fresh content daily and require heavy maintenance are usually able to warrant asking for a subscription fee.  (Think Hulu, Spotify)
  • Paid App – Another option is to have people pay to download your app. While this may cut down on the number of downloads, it’s a way to make sure you’re getting money from those who do download it. Paid apps are usually apps that deliver a service or benefit, designed for long-term use.
  • Freemium – Rather than paying for the app upfront, some developers offer a free version that people can download and try out. If they like it, they can then purchase a full version.
  • In-App Purchases – This is similar to the freemium monetization method. You give your app away for free but allow people to purchase extras while they’re using the app. For games, this can be special perks such as extra lives, advancing to the next level, access to special area of the game, virtual currency, etc., but other types of apps can use this model as well.
  • Mobile Advertising – A tried and tested method, if you do not want to charge your users, you can earn money by displaying advertisements at key points throughout the app usage cycle.  Mobile app users understand that exposure to ads is the “cost” of using the free app, and are tolerant if not accepting of these forms of ads.  In fact, users may benefit from these ads if the ads are relevant to the user’s interest, and delivered in the right way.  Imagine a user receiving a Startbucks discount as they walk by a Starbucks storefront.

Whichever monetization model you choose, you will want to consider the options at the beginning of your planning. It’s much easier to implement some of the ones listed above if you do it before the app has been developed.

My App is Launched, Now What?

After you’ve designed and launched your mobile app, the work isn’t done! You’ll want to send out a press release about your application, of course, but don’t stop there if you want to really succeed. The goal is to amass favorable reviews from both fans and critics. To do this, you can utilize some of the more popular app review websites such as the ones below:

To get users and critics to review your mobile app, you can try hanging out in online app gaming forums, search through social networks to find related groups or ask friends and family.  Some publications offer a way to submit your app for review.  Marketing your app as much as possible during the launch phase is crucial for overall success.

You’ll also need to build your user base for your app. When initially starting out as a developer with a limited budget, a simple way is to utilize cross promotion in your apps.  Cross promotion in short is having one of your apps promoting another one of your apps as a way to increase visibility. You can do this by joining a platform that has cross promotion capabilities or setup an mobile ad server and do it manually.

A surefire way to achieve critical mass of users is to utilize a mobile ad network or app discovery platform. Out of all the methods to get users to your app, this one is typically the easiest method, although requires an upfront cost to buy the traffic.

Ongoing Marketing

After your app is launched into the market, your work is still not done.  As you continue marketing your app to the right audience, the most constructive practice is to measure and track results carefully. Analytics will allow you to determine which marketing methods are working and which ones aren’t worth the money.

Eventually, you’ll be able to come up with a customer acquisition cost, which is very valuable information for making sure an app is profitable. By knowing how much you need to spend to get a user to download and install your app, you’ll be able to compare that with the average amount of money each user makes you. This can help safely scale up your advertising and increase your profits.

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

When it comes to developing and launching a mobile app, it’s important to not give up. Even if you don’t succeed at first, you can take a step back and look at any mistakes you may have made as well as ways to correct them. This is why taking a lot of time in the design and development phase is important. If you can work out the kinks early on and come up with a monetization strategy that works well with your audience, the less likely it is that you will need to backtrack once your app is available.

The other thing to remember is that success doesn’t come automatically for most people. For example, you might not know this but Rovio developed over 50 mobile apps before they hit a homerun with Angry Birds. You might not have the resources to develop that many apps on your own, but it’s important to realize that there’s a learning curve. If you don’t succeed with your first mobile app, don’t give up! Instead, take everything you’ve learned and move forward with a new app, making it better and increasing your chances of overall success.

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