What Makes an App Disruptive? Here’s What You Need to Know

App Partner
Jun 11, 2018 · 5 min read

Think about the apps you use every day…why do you use them? Chances are, those apps make your life easier, solve a problem, entertain you endlessly, or even change the way you view the world.

There are millions of apps available in the leading app stores, but only a small fraction of them are disruptive, or apps we can’t live without. These game-changers redefine industries and encourage legions of imitators. What qualities do they have in common? What differentiates them from run-of-the mill apps? And how can this knowledge help you succeed?

Characteristics of Disruptive Apps

As you seek to join Snapchat, YouTube, Pandora, and others in the pantheon of apps, keep in mind that these apps share certain characteristics. What are they?

  • They solve a problem or provide a better solution — Does your app solve a problem? Is that problem a common pain point of your target customer? Are there other options available to them? And if so, how can your idea more effectively address their needs? Answering these questions will help you resonate with your users.

Uber is a prime example of an app that solved a problem. For over a century, the taxi industry had a hold on transporting riders from point A to point B. Uber saw a pain point in the cab market and thought up a better alternative. They offered customers a more convenient way of getting around via their smart phones, at a lower cost than the traditional taxi. In order for their idea to work, they needed to establish trust among strangers. Uber implemented a ratings system that enabled both drivers and passengers to receive information about one another prior to any interaction. They also made getting a ride easy. This allowed Uber to undercut the taxi industry and become one of the world’s most influential apps. The customer’s problem — finding a more affordable and convenient alternative to taking a cab — was solved.

  • They’re easy to use — Are your favorite apps easy to navigate? Are their interfaces straightforward? Did they require a tutorial? Or, was the process so intuitive it wasn’t necessary?

When Instagram launched, the company had a vision to make mobile photographs “fast, simple, and beautiful.” Today, with 800 million users, it’s one of the most popular social networks globally. A large part of its success has to do with the fact it’s so user friendly. There’s virtually no learning curve, and as such, the chances a competitor will come along and offer a simpler version are slim.

  • They offer customer support — While the masses may find disruptive apps easy to use, the not-so-savvy tech user can still be tripped up. That’s why customer support matters. There will always be some fraction of customers who need help downloading your app, or who have questions prior to and after purchasing it. For an app-preneur without a lot of time and resources at their disposal, it’s worth adding an FAQ page. Most often, the same handful of questions will come up, and you can address them in one place.
  • They’re adaptable — Successful apps are constantly evolving and updating. Oftentimes these apps start with certain features and change over time. In some cases, the app will pivot entirely.

Take Whatsapp, whose inception bares very little resemblance to what it is today. Originally, Whatsapp was an app for users to display statuses. When its developers added a messaging component, its popularity skyrocketed. Whatsapp enables users to send texts, make voice and video calls, and more. It adapted to meet certain needs, and continues to evolve and improve its capabilities.

Why Leading (Not Following) Is Key to Disruption

Many aspiring entrepreneurs fall into a trap — they try to mimic or clone successful apps with the thought that they, too, will enjoy similar success. However, it rarely works that way. If you’re planning on building off of an idea that’s already out there, you need to differentiate it somehow. You need a unique selling point to avoid getting lost in the shadows of the big players. For example, Facebook outclassed Myspace not by copying it, but rather by introducing better ideas and solutions that didn’t exist before. To be disruptive, it’s imperative that you differentiate your idea from your competitors, especially the big ones.

The Importance of a Value Proposition

A value proposition is a promise of value, or a message to your users explaining what problem the app solves and how they will benefit from it. Think of it as a way of explaining to users why they should choose you rather than your competitors.

Clarity and conciseness are key ingredients to a great value proposition. To resonate with customers, it’s important to think like them. Ask yourself, what do your users need? How can you solve their problem? Also consider what alternative solutions already exist, and what makes your solution better than the competition’s.

To boil it down, a value proposition tells a user why they should care. Periscope’s “explore the world through someone else’s eyes,” is an example of a straightforward and powerful value proposition, as it conveys a sense of empowerment, control, and intrigue. Spotify’s “music for everyone” is another effective example, as it addresses its target market — music lovers of all ages — in a mere three words.


Disruptive apps share certain characteristics — they solve problems, they have a great user experience, and they adapt over time. Make sure your app checks off all the right boxes. If it doesn’t, identify where it’s lacking and work to address those deficiencies. To upend an industry, your app needs to be original and stand out from the crowd — you also need a value proposition to explain to your audience why your app outdoes the competition. Keep all this in mind and you’ll be well on your way to success.

Blog Contributor

Thomas Greenhalgh (LinkedIn)

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App Partner is a Brooklyn-based digital agency that specializes in building innovative applications for mobile and web.

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