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What makes a Successful App, from Kumulos: Backend as a Service

Angry Birds, Instagram, Cut the Rope, Words with Friends, Draw Something.
When you read these titles what’s the first thing that pops into your head?

If you’re a user, probably either “fun” or “useful”.
If you’re an app developer, however, your first thought will likely be “successful”.

All of these apps are household names now, sitting at the top of “Most Downloaded” and “Best Apps” lists everywhere and their creators have become instant stars in the app world (along with earning a decent buck whilst they’re at it). If you’re looking to make a living out of your app development, you could do worse than to follow the examples of these guys.

So what’s made these apps so successful when others have done similar, and before them (a la hipstamatic with instagram) and just haven’t reached the same levels of success?

The answer to that question is multi-layered, and we’re not saying we have all the answers here, but here’s the Kumulos (Backend as a Service) verdict on the reasons behind a successful app.

1. Good Design

This is something we’ve talked about before, but it’s worth saying it again. Good, intelligent design is the core of any successful app. If your app has a visually striking art style (Angry Birds) it will immediately stand out from its rivals before the user even touches it. Once the user gets to interacting with the app, a smooth, no nonsense UI with a well integrated core concept will keep them coming back.
Instagram for example, originally started out with many more features as an app called Burbn, but it was decided that it was too messy and feature heavy and so they scaled it back to only include the picture taking/filtering and the easy sharing that we know and love from Instagram today.

2. Keeping it simple

“less is more” didn’t become a cliche by accident. In a creative world, the more directly and more simply you can put across the message you want to deliver, the better it’s usually received. This is especially true with apps. All of those listed above can be summed up in only a few words.
Angry Birds: Physics based strategy game
Instagram: App for filtering and sharing pictures
Cut the Rope: Physics based puzzle game
Words with friends: Social word game
Draw something: Social art game

Obviously these simplifications don’t capture the magic of these apps, but at their core it is what these apps are. They are built entirely around a single concept, with the idea of doing one thing well rather than  lots of things badly.
Another advantage of keeping it simple is that you keep your user base as wide as possible. Draw Something, for example, can easily be used by children and adults alike. There’s a very low barrier of entry and it can be fun regardless of whether you are a skilled artist or not. Minimising user exclusion is important if you want your app to become widely adopted.

3. They made a brand

Even if someone hasn’t played Angry Birds, it’s a good bet they can recognise the artwork from it. Up to 30% of Riovo’s income is from selling toys and Angry Birds Merchandise. How did they do this? For one they had excellent art direction, which like we said before, is part of good app design; but they also used this art design to create a brand.
Once something is recognisable just by looking at it, it becomes embedded in the public mind and this will, in turn, make it even more popular.

Each of the apps we listed at the top have instantly recognisable styles: Instagram with its faded filters, Cut the Rope with its adorable little monster, Draw Something with its simple, colourful interface. If you see a screenshot, you know what it’s from. They don’t look like anything else out there and are comfortable in looking unique instead of take the safe route and trying to look like something else that was successful before them.

4. Social Integration

Today social media is just part of our lives. We think nothing of announcing where we are, what we’re doing, or who we’re with to the world on a regular basis. Facebook displays a good chunk of your details publicly, twitter is a one stop shop for random thoughts and picture uploads apps like Instagram bring up the rear with photo collections.  Everyone knows what everyone is going, all the time; and this is the norm.
This is how Instagram became so popular, because aside from being well designed, they also heavily emphasised integration into social media. By making it easy for people to instantly post their pictures to Facebook or Twitter, along with allowing users to follow each other on the app, Instagram created a strong social network experience that made sure users came back to the app and also encouraged those who weren’t using it to try it out. And of course, this worked out well for them, with Facebook recently acquiring them for the tidy sum of $1Bn.

5. Make it addictive

This is, ultimately, the reason why these app are successful. All of them have something about them that makes them addictive as hell, that makes you want to play them on the toilet or in a lift or at work (during your lunch break of course).

With Angry Birds, it’s chasing that perfect score on every level. With Draw Something it’s trying to invent ever more elaborate ways of communicating your challenge picture. With Instagram it’s part of the social media addiction, where we post parts of our lives up simply to see what other people think of them.

Obviously, this list is primarily games, and that’s a telling sign of what makes a best selling app, for Android or iOS. Gamification and giving everything a challenge/reward scenario keeps people hooked, because that’s how our brains work. That’s why the internet is so addictive because we constantly can find things that reward us with new information, and it’s the same with good apps.

So find something that makes people using your app want to come back to it, to tell their friends about it and to try to get that perfect “something” that will let them “win” the app.

So there you have 5 ways to help your app be the best it can be. If you need a little help with you app, why not sign up to our Backend as a Service and get access to our resources and dedicated technical support?

Remember, our webinar is on wednesday of this week! If you’ve not signed up yet, you can do so here:

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