When is the last time you went an entire day without opening an app on your phone?
It’s probably been a long, long time. According to Buildfire, 49% of people open an app 11+ times each day and 57% of all digital media usage comes from mobile apps. Are you surprised?! We’re not. When you really think about it, what do you do on your phone besides use apps? Not much.
The average smartphone owner uses 30 apps each month, which isn’t that many considering there are 2.2 million apps on the App Store and 2.8 million apps on the Google Play Store (Buildfire).
So what are those apps people are using each month and what do the successful apps have in common?
Let’s take a look at Calm.
Calm is the most successful meditation app. With over 40 million downloads worldwide, it’s no surprise that it is a chart-topper being #2 in Health & Fitness with 4.8 stars out of 992K ratings. Business Insider called it “tech’s first unicorn focused on meditation.”
Calm is your meditation and mindfulness guide. Users can set intentions of what they want to get out of the app and the app will direct them further. The UX/UI is clean and simple. Plus, it has a calming stream playing in the background of the app which gives it an added touch.
Sure Calm may have been the first, but it definitely isn’t the last. Other meditation apps like Headspace have also been wildly successful. Doing some of the same stuff, but slightly different.
Credit: A place for mom
A good lesson to learn. Your mobile application idea is most likely already out there. And that’s ok. The key to a successful app isn’t a groundbreaking new idea no one has ever heard of. The key to a successful app is doing better, making it easier, and honestly, marketing.
Related: 5 reasons businesses must-have a mobile application
What do successful mobile applications have in common
Successful apps have the perfect combination of consumers’ needs, business objectives, and technological solutions. At the very heart of a successful app, it needs to provide unique value, usefulness, simple usability, great performance, nice appearance, and accessibility.
So let’s dive into the 15 steps it takes to make a successful mobile application:
1. Have an insane mobile app idea
This is the obvious part and why you are probably searching for this article in the first place. You have an idea, or you’ve come to be inspired by characteristics of successful mobile apps. Either way, we’re here to help.
The first step to creating a successful app is to think of an awesome idea that solves a problem and stop. The most successful apps don’t try to accomplish everything. They do one thing and they do it very, very well. Once you have perfected your one thing then you could think about how you would like to expand on that, but for now, aim for perfection.
Now that I’m off my soapbox, back to solving a problem. Sometimes “solving a problem” sounds more intimidating than it needs to. Here are two options to consider:
Airbnb solved an accommodation problem although that looked different for its users. For some it was getting accommodation cheaper than hotels, for others, it was renting incredible mansions for their vacations. Airbnb is also a good example of doing one thing very well (accommodation) and then expanding once perfected (experiences).
Pokemon GO solved problems such as boredom and inactiveness.
Your idea needs to provide enough value to the user that they will be motivated enough to download it. There are 2.8 million apps on the Google Play Store (Buildfire). Why yours?
2. Conduct market research
Market research is one of the most important steps to ensure a successful mobile application. Every step of the mobile app development process should be done with the target audience in mind, and to do that, the target audience must be defined. Market research is the process of gathering information and defining very specifically who the target market and audience are for a particular product.
Through market research, you’ll be able to determine the business potential of your idea (the market need), where to communicate with your audience (marketing channels), and even how to communicate with them (marketing message).
Ok, I understand it’s important, but how do I do it?
Market research is incredibly important and therefore it is probably best to hire it out (what’s the point of developing an app if no one is going to use it?). However, if you are on a tight budget but have some extra time on your hands you could learn more about it from online courses and resources like Coursera. But in a nutshell, market research is completed by gathering data from every possible source for who would use this app, why, what they like, what they don’t like, and all the demographic information you can get.
After the market research, you should have a crystal clear vision of your app, its features, and its target market. Keeping a clear vision of your target audience throughout the development process enhances the success of an app.
3. Understand your budget
May be obvious. But before you move onto defining your business model and getting into design and development you need to have a clear understanding of your budget. Mobile application development is not cheap. The budget will differ depending on the development contractor, app complexity, and the number of features, etc., but you can expect that it will at least be the cost of a car if not a house depending on the size of the project.
Understanding your budget now will guide how you move forward in choosing your technology, your development and design team, and your marketing strategy.
4. Define your business model
There are various business models for monetizing mobile applications, and it largely depends on the type of app you’ve created along with the user experience you are trying to provide and manage. We’ve all been on blogs where you are instantly overloaded with ads and are immediately annoyed--AKA bad user experience. You don’t want people to have that feeling with your app, because, well, they’ll delete it and never use it again.
All that to say just pick the right one for you and your users. Here are a few of the most common options: advertising, freemium model, in-app purchases, subscriptions, email marketing, and sponsorships.
Feeling overwhelmed by the options and unsure what is best for your user? Take a look at what your competitors are doing. At the very least it can give you a starting point or food for thought.
5. Pick your
Native apps have the best user experience because they are coded specifically for either iOS or Android devices. It improves the user experience by leveraging the device’s hardware and functionality, which makes the app very fast and responsive, which makes for a happy user. Because they are coded specifically for a platform it requires expertise and knowledge which is time-consuming and costly.
Hybrid apps are the best of both worlds because they cut down on costs and development time by being compatible with all devices and operating systems. Although you lose some of the native advantages, the app will still be designed, optimized, and styled for more than one type of device. React Native and Flutter are the most popular technologies used for hybrid app development.
6. Simple and intuitive UX/UI design
With over 2 million apps out there, you can’t afford to make a bad impression.
*Cue UX/UI design*
UX/UI design is a critical piece of a mobile app’s success. If your app isn’t simple and intuitive then people will delete your app and download the next one. You only get one shot.
Here are some UX/UI tips to follow:
Follow platform design guide: to get your app into the Google Play Store or App Store it’s recommended you follow the design guidelines that Android and iOS have developed.
Responsive design: make sure that your design nicely fits onto different phone and tablet sizes. We’ve all had apps that don’t do this and it’s oddly annoying (aka bad UX).
Keep up with the trends: people don’t like using “outdated” technology. Keep your app up to date with the latest UX/UI trends for 2020. It’s surprising how much people really do care about animations, the colors you use, and the font choice. Regardless, you’ll want to keep the design stupid simple. Every element should have a specific purpose, and if it doesn’t then it needs to be taken out.
More “rules” to consider: the 2-tap rule makes sure your app gets straight to the point. Users should be able to access the main point of the app within 2-taps.
The 5-point rule makes sure you don’t go overboard with design elements. Each element (font, color, size, etc) on a single page is one point, and if you’re over 5 it’s too busy and you need to redesign it.
When in doubt check other apps out: if you’re still feeling uneasy, check out your favorite apps or your competitors’ apps and see what they are doing that you really like. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you just have to make it better.
7. Choose your design and development team wisely
To ensure the success of your app it’s imperative that you have designers and developers that are knowledgable, have a wide variety of skills, communicate often, and are always keeping the user in mind. Developing should always be about quality vs having mediocre developers complete a mediocre app as fast as possible. You came here to figure out how to make a successful mobile app and quality developers are a big part of that.
Often times it is easier to outsource the work to a team that is experienced, already works, and communicates well together, and can provide additional resources such as marketing and SEO.
8. All hail the product manager
Product managers are the glue to a great development and design team. With multiple people working on different aspects of the product, it’s easy for things to be missed or poorly communicated. Product managers are the ones that keep everyone on the same page, communicate timelines with the customer, and know just a little bit about everything. To create a successful app, everyone needs to be on the same page at all times, and product managers make sure that happens.
9. Ready, set, develop
Keep your eye on the prize. You are building an application to solve a specific problem which means the core functionality of the app specifically needs to focus on that. Period. Don’t get distracted with the fluff, and keep it stupid simple.
Make sure you are optimizing speed from the get-go. One of the most important, nonsexy, aspects of a successful app is speed. 70% of users abandon an app because it takes too long to load (Google Think). And we’re talking seconds. 43% of users are unhappy if they have to wait longer than 3 seconds for your app to load (AppSamurai).
Your app has to maintain high performance at all times. According to Qualitest, 88% of app users will abandon a mobile app if it has bugs and glitches. And a bad mobile experience leaves 65% of users with a negative impact of the brand (Catchpoint).
10. Prioritize safety
Safety should always be a priority, especially when most devices also store information about banking and access keys for example.
You do not want to mess up the security piece so we recommend following a security checklist for mobile development which includes securing the source code, files, database, and communications.
11. Add third-party integrations
Third-party integrations are great to enhance applications for the user because it can make the app more familiar, easy to use, and overall more credible (think Google Maps, Instagram, etc). Third-party integrations can also benefit you as well if you integrate the app with mobile fanatics tools such as Google Analytics, Firebase, Mixpanel, and Preemptive.
As always, only add third-party integrations if it makes sense and it’s actually useful for the user. Don’t add third-party integrations for fluff.
12. Test your application
All good things come from testing. Testing your mobile application on real users is crucial before launching the app. This is where you find out how users are actually using the app and where breakdowns are happening, if any. On top of making sure the app is being used as it was intended, testing also helps identify bugs. For the app to be as successful as possible, bugs must be eliminated.
There are different steps, stages, and benefits to UX/UI testing and we’ve broken it down here.
13. Plan a marketing strategy
You can create the greatest, most useful, app in the world and it will be a dud if no one knows about it. That’s where the marketing strategy comes in, and although it is towards the end of this list it is something that should be implemented right away. Whether it’s free or paid, you can divide your marketing plan into 3 campaign phases: pre-launch, launch, and post-launch. It doesn’t matter how you get the word out there… just get it out!
App Store Optimization (ASO) is another piece of the marketing puzzle. It is how users will discover your app in the App Store or Google Play Store (i.e. how it’s ranked). ASO is a continuous process focusing on keywords, descriptions, titles, logos, etc to overtake your competitors in the rankings. Another hot tip for ASO is having a fast-loading app and having regular app updates.
14. Make regular updates
Not only does having regular updates help ASO (as mentioned above), it also helps with retention and shows users you care about them. Updates are primarily known for fixing bugs and for a good reason. Did you know app crashes cause 71% of uninstalls (AppSamurai)? However, updates can also improve retention and user experience by creating new features that show the user that you are listening and that you care.
The keyword in that sentence is listening, which I implied that you are asking for feedback and using data to guide your decisions on what should be updated (maybe from those third-party integrations we mentioned earlier).
15. Retention, retention, retention
The previous 14 steps would be all for nothing if you don’t retain your users. It’s easier said than done since 25% of users abandon apps after one use.
Assuming that you have been taking into account the previous steps of tracking data and making sure your first impressions are 👌🏽 with simplicity and intuitive design, then you can move onto personalizing user experiences, using gamification to increase engagement, implement push notification, use in-app messages, and offering perks to engaged users to increase retention.
Our favorite are push notifications because they occur when the user isn’t using the app. They encourage engagement in the form of informative, promotional, transactional, and survey notifications. There’s a lot of customization for the push notifications, but just don’t overdo it. Less is more.
Building a successful mobile application is more than just an idea with a development team behind it. We’ve laid out the steps it takes to have a successful mobile app, and you’ve seen all the different professionals involved. None of this would be possible without an incredible idea and someone with enough passion pushing it along. You don’t have to know how to complete every step we’ve laid out. You just need to know what needs to be done so you are knowledgeable about the process and can outsource the word to skilled professionals if need be.