It is a genuine pleasure, as CTO of app development company Apptaura, to listen to people’s app ideas and to share with them the excitement of bringing those ideas to fruition. An app can live or die on this ideas stage.

In going round this process over and again for now over eight years, I’ve gained a good idea of what makes an app work. And – equally importantly – what apps which don’t work tend to have in common. So this blog post answers the question I get asked most of all: what makes a good app?


User, problem, solution

As is the case when developing any new product, an app needs to be targeted to a particular audience, and must solve a particular problem they are experiencing. Usually, understanding of this problem comes from research around a target user base, leading to an understanding of what their needs really are.

To put a little colour to that… To author a successful app, you need a clear understanding of:

  • USER: A clear knowledge of who the target user is
  • PROBLEM: An understanding of what their problem is
  • SOLUTION: A great way of solving that problem

To improve your chances of success, your user needs to be as narrowly defined as possible, so that problem can be as specific as possible, and the solution can be as targeted as possible.

That is, a smart way of solving a specific problem for a targeted user.


Why niches are best

Where apps differ from other types of products is that a highly targeted solution has the best chance of success. This is partly because of the way that recommendations and advertising works on the app store.

However it’s also, much more significantly, down to how users consume apps.

When users search app stores, they have a specific goal in their head. And if that search takes them to your app, they will grade it based on how well it solves that particular goal.

That means apps work best when they are very specific about what they do. For example, if you have a project management app which offers team management, chat and invoicing features, then you will struggle to gain traction for those people looking only for invoicing, say, against apps which offer only that.

From a development pipeline perspective, only a percentage of your resources will be put towards invoicing features, and so you will struggle against smaller apps which have that as their sole purpose.


The problem and solution must be obvious inside the app

A larger multi-faceted app will also have trouble demonstrating its value to a first-time user. From their perspective, the one feature they need will be harder to find compared to a single-shot app which has it front-and-centre. To retain a user – that is, to stop them abandoning the app after the first use, as 21% of users do – the solution they are looking for needs to be blindingly obvious the moment they open it. An app which has multiple features will clearly be less effective at doing that than one with a single feature.


Store listings play a part, too

Users spend on average 7 seconds looking at store listings. Most people make their decisions based on a glance at screenshots – of which only 2-3 are initially shown. That’s another reason why single-shot apps are going to be more effective: because the user is going to be more likely to see a validation of, and solution to, their problem in that short time. Simply, you don’t have enough time to describe something complex and multi-faceted.

This applies even to the big guys, too. Notice for example how Microsoft doesn’t offer an Office app. Instead, Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc. are each separately downloadable, all in their individual niches.


To conclude

To make a successful app, you need to start by considering your target user. Find out what their greatest problem is. Then find a great solution to it. Pick one single thing to solve and avoid feature creep, where otherwise good feature ideas ultimately dilute the purpose of your app. This will concentrate development, marketing and audience, and gives you the best chance of success.