So, you want to make a successful app, but you don’t know where to start.
I’ve spent the better part of a decade building award-winning mobile apps for the App Store. Yet I wanted to back up my own observations with advice directly from Apple (which has documents outlining the process of creating successful apps here, here, and here). If you haven’t read the App Store guidelines, stop reading this article and read it here.
Apple does a great job communicating their guidelines in a no-nonsense, cheeky, way. Within those guidelines, and embedded within some of their other communications, are golden nuggets and sage words straight from the horse’s mouth on how to make successful apps.
If you’re looking to make a living off apps, then you should listen up. This is 2016, and there’s no room for amateurs and wantrepreneurs on the App Store. Let’s dissect some of Apple’s advice so you can make apps like a pro:
Tip #1 From Apple: “We have over a million Apps in the App Store. If your App doesn’t do something useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment, or if your app is plain creepy, it may not be accepted.”
Be useful. Solve a problem the user faces with a usable interface. You can be effective at this by taking a solution that exists and making it better, faster, easier, cheaper, safer or funnier. These words all describe value. Often times, a new product may be more than one of these. Consider how you’re making the someone’s life better. Rethink, refresh, redesign, and recreate things. Remix the old, and make the new.
For example, consider the podcast app Overcast. As a product, it’s certainly not the one with the most comprehensive list of features. Instead of trying to fight many battles, it enhances its odds of winning by focusing on a few. One of its unique abilities is one that helps users save time by automatically speeding up and skipping through silence in a podcast.
Considering how podcasts have been around for a decade, and how Overcast for a relatively short time, this slight additional utility still made it an extremely popular app. It does podcasting very well and improves on the experience in a specific way.
Tip #2 From Apple: “Before creating your app, take a look at the apps in your category on the App Store and consider how you can provide an even better user experience.”
Make something unique. This is meant in the context of the App Store. Does what you plan to build exist already? What can you do to differentiate yourself? Do your research.
Conventional methods yield conventional results. Instead of building something old with enhanced efficiency, with this principle you’re going to be building something completely new. You’ll be doing something that hasn’t been done before. Apple says that this is one of the top reasons apps get rejected from the App Store. “If your app doesn’t offer much functionality or content, or only applies to a small niche market, it may not be approved,” Apple wrote on their website.
Tip #3 From Apple: “Apple places a high value on clean, refined, and user-friendly interfaces. Make sure your UI meets these requirements by planning your design carefully and following our design guides and UI Design Dos and Don’ts.”
Apple is notorious for their attention to detail. The original team signed the inside of the Macintosh, even when they knew little to nobody would see it. In an age where your competitors are obsessed over quantity, you will win by paying attention to quality.
When it comes to building apps, our mantra is to “Make it feature worthy.” People should be thrilled at how enjoyable and beautiful it is, and press should want to cover it. These little details like the app icon, UI sounds, and small parts of the user interface add up to make a big difference. I like to think that’s why my studio’s work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Lifehacker, and WIRED.
Tip #4 From Apple: “If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.”
There are over 1.6 million apps on the App Store. It’s not a playground for hobbyists and amateurs to share their first apps or half-baked beta builds. Many other developers have put in hundreds (thousands!) of hours into crafting their apps before even attempting to get it published. As such, Apple’s role as a gatekeeper is as important as ever.
Spend the time to get it right, the first time. QA your app carefully. Share it with beta testers. Use it yourself. Try it out on older devices. Fix every possible bug you can find before uploading that V1 build, because chances are you’ll still have missed some.
Don’t submit your app until you’re confident that it’s worthy of four or five stars.
Tip #5 From Apple: “Lastly, we love this stuff too, and honor what you do. We’re really trying our best to create the best platform in the world for you to express your talents and make a living too. If it sounds like we’re control freaks, well, maybe it’s because we’re so committed to our users and making sure they have a quality experience with our products. Just like almost all of you are, too.”
Like all other organizations, Apple works in their own interest. Accepting and promoting apps that are useful, differentiated, have an intuitive user interface, glowing user reviews, and press coverage is in their interest. So do them and yourself a favor, and create the best app that you can.
This was somewhat of a serious piece (minus the GIFs), and I’d be the last to say you can’t “have fun” as you build for the App Store. Always remember that for each moment you rest on your laurels there are other experienced developers, entrepreneurs, and designers looking to replace the product that you put together. Attention is a zero sum game.
The major lesson here is to create apps that are useful, unique, well-designed, and refined. Make apps that improve peoples lives in small, but meaningful ways.
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Robleh Jama is the founder of Tiny Hearts, an award-winning product studio. They make their own products like Next Keyboard, Wake Alarm and Quick Fit — as well as products for clients like Plantronics and Philips.
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