How to Succeed Together With Your Mobile App

by austin

Most apps fail. This cruel reality has led many disillusioned developers to conclude, often subconsciously, that succeeding around the App Store is much like striking it rich within the gold rush: you merely have to get lucky.

The App Success Formula.

The concept of luck can be a dangerous sedative to ease the anguish 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, you will want to look at what folks like tap tap tap and Tapbots do to achieve success again and again and again.

While applying this formula flawlessly is virtually impossible, working towards it’ll dramatically increase the chances of you success. These concepts are based about the iOS platform, but many of the principles connect with other platforms as well.


Any successful app rests on the foundation of the solid idea, because the idea determines the ultimate potential of the execution. Avoid the temptation of jumping directly into execution after through an epiphany within the shower. A little little research at the start can help to save that you simply great deal of pain on the road.

Find a Vacuum


Phill Ryu (@phillryu) posseses 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 being filled. A few examples:

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

Clear: among 1000s of to-do apps, Clear filled a user interface (UI) innovation vacuum. Entering a crowded category seems counter-intuitive, but the biggest categories give you the biggest opportunities should you can innovate within them.

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

iTranslate Voice: The discharge of Siri intrigued the world, instantly establishing a vacuum for apps like iTranslate Voice that behaved like Siri but offered different functionality. Every new technology introduces a fresh vacuum in addition to it.

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

Show Me the Money

Most apps don’t make money. If revenue is important to you, it may be worth exploring what type of apps generate income and what type of apps don’t. Building on Marco Arment’s theory of two app stores, I postulate that three categories of apps make money, and something category doesn’t.

Apps can be split into categories by profit per user and variety of downloads.
Apps can be split into categories by profit per user and number of downloads. Large view.

Hit Apps:

  • High volume, low price;
  • Appeal to almost everybody, targeting impulse purchasers who browse the most notable charts and featured lists;
  • Huge launches based on intense marketing campaigns;
  • Require tens of thousands, if not countless 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 so are ready to pay big bucks to enhance 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 huge profit;
  • Rare but rewarding.

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

Most Apps Fail:

  • Low volume and low profit per user;
  • Even if this kind of 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 the percent of the market, they can sell their app at $0.99 and create a fortune.

It just doesn’t work that way. The brutal reality kicks in when the initial 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 which makes cash is hard. David Barnard, the brilliant mind behind App Cubby, points too the future of sustainable revenues may lie in true freemium, scaling the cost with all the value derived. Generate lots of downloads and creatively find ways to let users who find more quality pay more for it. These kinds of creative monetization ideas are relatively untested for non-game apps, but that’s why is this industry so exciting.

Make a Statement

No, I mean, literally, write something down. Whittle your idea right down to its core and make one sentence that defines your app and its target market. Apple performs this for their internal apps and you should take action too.

For example:

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

If you cannot explain the essential worth of your idea in a single sentence, it’s too complex. Mobile apps need to focus on doing one task extremely well, since 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 take away the cruft.


Apple’s culture revolves around design excellence. It’s no coincidence the apps Apple showcases are always well designed. Design will be the most critical component in building a prosperous 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 book 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 compared 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 with their essence. Good design is a lot more about saying no to great ideas of computer is about generating them.

The to-do list app on the left let cool features get in the method of the core /<br />
Clear (right) questioned everything and only the essence survived.” width=”500″ height=”375″ /><br /><em>The to-do list app around the left let cool features get inside the means of the core experience.<br />
Clear (right) questioned everything and only the essence survived.</em></p>
<p><strong>Consider UI Conventions</strong><br />Users have certain expectations about the way the UI on their devices should behave based around the conventions they see within the operating-system and also the primary apps they will use every day. Pay attention for the UI guidelines (<a href=iOS Human Interface Guidelines, Android User Interface Guidelines) and be sure to know 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 check unique, the grade input interface about 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 inside their head about the means by which the planet works. Don’t design based on your database or programming limitations, but according to how a user ponders things.

RedLaser’s scanning interface initially required users to consider a picture of the barcode these were interested in (left). The app went viral once 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 adopt an image of the barcode these were interested in (left). The app went viral when they changed the interface to complement the way 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 complete for that app to function.

TripIt is excellent however 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 nevertheless 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 offer an appealing walkthrough to entice users to sign up like TuneWiki (right).

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

Get Emotional

The sliding pane opening animation in Weightbot, the humorous copy in Everyday, the satisfying ascending charms when you check off pieces of Clear; 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, however, you definitely don’t forget them and you are a lot 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 comprehensive treatment on emotional design, but here certainly are a few basic points relating to apps.

Visuals Matter
Beautiful apps sell better, are more fun to make use of and feel worth more than bland apps. Though beauty are available 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 Book by Robin Williams is really a great spot to start.

Paper for iPad by Fifty Three.
Paper for iPad by Fifty Three.

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

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

Touch Is Magic
Apple’s engineers don’t stop working until their products feel right. It’s why the initial iPhone’s bouncy scrolling “scrolls like butter.” If an item doesn’t respond immediately for the touch, it reminds you that you’re 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 Choice can be directly manipulated along with your fingers.

Gestures can give a powerful connection between your interface as well as the user but tend to even be frustratingly undiscoverable or even implemented correctly. Experiment with new interactions and don’t stop working until every interaction, transition and metaphor is practical and feels right.

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

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

Users opening Weightbot for that first time enjoy watching the bot unlocking itself.
Users opening Weightbot for that 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 getting garish. The icon need to look beautiful at large sizes, yet iconic enough to be recognized within an app folder about the home screen.

Clear’s icon stands out utilizing a bright color scheme and one simple shape. The icon about the right has too many conflicting colors and shapes to become recognizable or attractive.
Clear’s icon (left) sticks out employing a bright color scheme then one simple shape. The icon on the right has a lot of conflicting colors and shapes being recognizable or attractive.


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

Go Native

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

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

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

At very best, we could build once and optimize everywhere. Apps like Zipcar have successfully used this approach. Unfortunately, Zipcar is surely 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 the location where the programming heavily constrains the style of the app. It stifles design innovation by tempting you to go cheap in order to meet the cheapest common denominator.
  • Technologies like PhoneGap essentially turn your app in to 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 fit native experiences.
  • Tools like Appcelerator compile native code. These perform much better but still lack the flexibility and robustness of pure native code. Since you need to do not have direct access to the code which is running on the phone, errors can be more challenging to locate and squash. They can also allow it to be challenging to implement new technologies right away, giving you a disadvantage against competitors who can tie into technology 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 find out if something like Appcelerator is effective at executing those designs without compromise.

For an in-depth take a peek at cross-platform trade-offs, read Aral Balkan’s comprehensive treatment about the subject.

Code Quality Matters

While perfectly-formed, well-documented code does not directly affect the user, it certainly affects your capability to push out timely, robust updates, a thing 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 requires a poor coder to build one component sloppily, a quality coder can build three components robustly. If you choose you don’t like the poor coder, a fresh coder will most have likely to begin from scratch since the legacy code only makes sense to its author. On one other hand, quality code can be reused and built upon easily.


If you have an advertising department, good for you, but grassroots marketing by means of a developer or perhaps a designer can regularly be much more effective. Believe me, when I started, my name didn’t mean everything to anybody that mattered. Now my work may be featured by Apple, Mashable, TechCrunch, The Huffington Post, Fox News and dozens more. All this without spending any cash on marketing, aside from several website costs.

Start Early

Many developers consider marketing as something to complete after an app launches. Nothing could be further in the truth.

A huge launch is critical, specifically for inexpensive apps. If your launch does not propel your app into the top charts, the app will most likely fade into oblivion very quickly amidst the 1000s of apps launching every week. An app that is not on a premier chart is virtually invisible to most consumers.

After the launch, a review here 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 however they are roughly according to sales in the window of time, say four days, weighted towards the latest day. This implies that marketing you are doing today won’t affect your ranking weekly from now, making fragmented press all but worthless. Only concentrated marketing blasts work. The launch constitutes your number 1 chance to exhibit your app to the world in the concentrated way.

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

Make Friends

Connections are everything. They power your marketing machine. No connections means no warm doors, and, with 1000s of apps vying for press attention every week, a warm door is gold.

I are creating Twitter lists of Apple employees, members of the press and remarkable iOS developers to help me find the possiblility to connect. Feel free to make use of them!
I have created Twitter lists of Apple employees, members of the press and remarkable iOS developers to help me find possibilities to connect. Feel free to utilize them!

Connect With Apple Employees, Tech Writers and Influential Designers and Developers within the Community
Realize that actual human beings run companies like Apple, TechCrunch and tap tap tap. A great deal of these individuals are really cool and like to meet and promote individuals with great products and ideas. Make a set of individuals to interact with and actively seek opportunities to complete so.

Go Where They Are

  • Twitter is really 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 approach to initiate contact.
  • Face-to-face connections are probably 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 may also be a fantastic place to meet people.

Be Cool, Don’t Spam
Just as you obtain the opportunity to speak to someone doesn’t mean they are instantly interested inside your pitch. Build a meaningful connection first. Then they’ll be requesting what cool things you’re up to. When you are doing show off some work, do it within the means of seeking advice and feedback instead of pitching. It comes off better and sometimes elicits great feedback.

Give and You Shall Receive
Build meaningful connections with folks by permitting to their mind and contemplating their needs and wants. Maybe an influential person asks a technical question on Twitter that you know the solution to, or writes a post you have thoughts on. Be sure to respond! Do this a couple of times plus they might just notice. Finally, remember that folks have egos — make sure to let them know when you appreciate their work.

Post Interesting Stuff
Link to insightful articles and perhaps even write your own personal blog with all the things you learn about. People love to read honest journaling and analysis of apps. Websites like iDevBlogADay promote your articles towards 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 increase your fan base who will be the initial to download your app on launch day.

Teaser websites similar to this one will help build anticipation and collect email addresses.
Teaser websites similar to this one will help build anticipation and collect email addresses. Large view.

  • Set up Twitter and Facebook accounts to your app. This gives potential fans a simple way to adhere to and mention your app. Use the account to write sneak peeks, updates on progress and contests. You can even make use of the account to adhere to people you imagine may be interested within the app. They’ll see you’re following them and may check the app out.
  • Build a teaser website having a form to sign approximately your mailing list. Include something to entice people — a stylish Web design, an attractive screenshot and perhaps even a video.
  • Create a video. Nothing builds buzz being a well-done video. The buzz behind the Clear video exemplifies that. It’s also a simple way to demonstrate the press what your app is all about.
  • Run a personal beta. Your beta testers will probably be your biggest fans entering launch because they feel invested inside the progression 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 so how exactly does one get featured by Apple? Thousands of apps emerge every week, and only a limited number look for a place on the App Store homepage.

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

First, the app has to become “featureable.” It must interest Apple in some way. Does it have a polished design? Does it flaunt the Apple platform? Is it something you cannot find on other platforms? Any of these characteristics boost your chances. The great news is that out of the 1000s of apps coming out, hardly any feature the kind of design discussed here, which makes it relatively simple to stand out.

Second, you have to get Apple’s attention. Making connections within Apple can be invaluable. As an over-all rule, though, you must make your own personal splash before Apple is likely to make that you simply bigger one. Apple has an editorial team. They find apps to feature. You must get for the places they are looking. Based in my experiences, they probably take a glance at new apps that are “charting” — moving up the charts. For that, you have to generate a good variety of launch-day sales. It takes a minimum of a few hundred sales to chart in most categories. Besides that, think of the places you might go to discover new quality apps; they probably visit exactly the same websites.

Pitch the Press

Press reviews help establish credibility, a preliminary 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 would like to attempt to have reviews lined approximately publish on launch day.

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

This will be the part in places you contact dozens of 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, maintain it short, allow it to be personal and don’t forget to follow up.

Build a Fan Base

The most powerful app company is one having a fan base. Sonico Mobile, a partner on our latest app, Languages, recently released an app called iTranslate Voice. The app became an instant #1 hit with hardly any 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 organization on Twitter or subscribe with 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 for you to develop. Be sure to make it possible for fans to participate your mailing list, such as your Facebook page and follow your Twitter account. In addition, think about a mass-market free app as part of a strategy to gain an incredible number of fans. Ad bartering services like Swappit allow one to build up ad impression credits and use them all at exactly the same time on a big launch.


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

Monetary success is hard, nevertheless it gets easier when you go. As you consistently produce quality apps, your brand becomes recognized from the press and Apple, your team gains critical hands-on experience and you also develop a fan base. This is unquestionably a long-term game, however the payoff can be incredible. It’s a fantastic feeling to know that an incredible number of individuals are experiencing the fruit of your hard work. Learn the lessons, don’t compromise and create a dent inside the universe.

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