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Developing the next big mobile app

How can you develop the next big mobile app? Is there a blueprint to follow or a set of guidelines that helps a developer craft the next Flappy Bird or WhatsApp? A lot of people have spent countless hours on that exact question.

So what’s the answer? Let’s look at of the most current top downloaded apps along with some all-time greats.

Current Top Mobile Apps

  • Card Wars
  • Threes!
  • Minecraft
  • Flappy Wings
  • Flying Cyrus
  • Talking Angela
  • Splashy Fish
  • The Room Two

Apps That Made $5 Million+

  • Pocket God
  • Tiny Wings
  • SoundHound
  • Instagram
  • Camera+
  • FlickFishing
  • Angry Birds
  • Draw Something
  • Cut the Rope

Looking at that list it is very hard to discern a pattern. Other than the obvious connection that many of them are games, there is not a lot of linking factors. The games cover a wide range of styles and users. For those who aren’t aware, entertainment apps such as games or social themed-apps occupy a higher market share of application downloads compared to things that would be considered useful or productive.

So what explains the massive popularity of a game like Flappy Bird, which was earning a reported $50,000 per day from in-app advertisements? How does a mobile app like Tinder, which is supposedly matching up to 10 million people per day, which is up from 5 million in December, suddenly get so popular?

What drives people to these apps versus the thousands of others out there to make a developer wildly successful?

Media Rules for App Promotion

It isn’t the application itself, although it must be noted that the application does need to fulfill a need, but the media that seems to promote an application into the Promised Land. For Tinder, which had featured pretty good growth and traffic since its launch, the media boost was courtesy of the Sochi Olympics.

When gold-medalist snowboarder Jamie Anderson, who was already trending because of her looks and gold-medal win, told US Weekly that she had to delete the dating app from her phone because of all the distracting “cuties” the app received a very big burst of popularity. Tinder CEO Sean Rad told the Wall Street Journal that his app saw a 400% day-over-day increase of new users in Sochi once the Olympics began.

Riding that wave of interest plenty of other people all around the globe decided to download the social dating app to see what “cuties” were near to them.

As a developer you simply can’t forecast or expect that type of reaction.

Flappy Bird is considered rather addictive in nature, much like Candy Crush and other games that people devote hours too. Both of those games experienced quite a bit of media sharing, especially among Facebook users for Candy Crush. How often have you seen a friend on Facebook brag about passing another level in Candy Crush? People see friends enjoying something and decide to jump on the bandwagon.

Both those examples, which are fairly typical for the best-selling apps, point to a serious correlation with media exposure and success.

You Just Never Know

The bottom line is that it is next to impossible to forecast what mobile app will become a success. Most apps won’t make a developer enough to buy a new car, let alone fulfill those dreams of retirement and a mansion.

What we can draw as conclusions from the lists above is that popular apps have some of the following characteristics:

  • Content Marketing
  • Visual Storytelling
  • Simple Game-play
  • Challenging Yet Fun/Satisfying
  • Well-made
  • Good Support
  • Digital Connectivity
  • Connection to Real Life

Looking at that list is it easy to see a trend? Sadly the answer is no, other than that it is over-all well designed. There are just too many variables to be able to hit the center of the target every time when designing an app. Even with a great idea and wonderful design, if you can’t get enough people to try it out to get the ball rolling your app could easily fall into obscurity.

So if your goal is developing the next big mobile app, along with making sure it is well-designed and interesting, look for a way to garner some media attention to spur popularity; rubbing a rabbit’s foot or having an Olympic gold-medalist mention it during the Olympics couldn’t hurt either.

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