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What Makes a Successful iPhone App?

Updated on September 26, 2012

The 80-20 reality about making the best i Phone apps . 80% of most mobile apps for iPhone in the App Store do not generate enough revenue to support a one person business. While the other 20% make millions yearly with their highly successful mobile iPhone apps. What makes a successful app for i Phone? Well it is the same process as any product that is on the market. You need to find a need that is not met, your need to promote, you need a sleek design and a solid functionality. Finally you need to provide world class support.

We will explore this process in the following article and provide some insight and examples along the way.


Market Research
One of the biggest follies of would-be developers when attempting to develop the next million dollar selling app is to create their app without first looking to see if an app already exists in the App Store. For example, I did a search for calculators in the App Store just for iPhone apps and I have counted 2720 calculator apps and I didn’t reach the end of the list. Now would it make sense to develop yet another calculator and if you did, what chance would you have against all the other calculator apps in the App Store. Surprisingly, you could if you found a feature not being meant and that has market for it, albeit a very niche market. You would have to zone in on a very narrow niche, but for the most part this segment of the market in this example is pretty saturated. Also with all those free calculator apps, why would anyone want to spend money to buy one.

If you are going to develop an app for iOS devices, I strongly suggest doing a little market research first. This will save you a lot of time and resources. There are tons of needs not being met. Focus on the niches. Stay away from the well trodden paths and you will find a pot of gold.

Pick a Niche
Use Google Keywords to track what users are searching. It works for other types of digital content. Use the search to get a market interest pulse. If there are a lot of searches results, then maybe there might be a need. As an example, if I take the calculator saturation from before and even though there are in excess of 3000 calculator apps, if you search the app store for becquerel or curie, which are unit of measures used in the atomic energy industry to measures the amount of isotopes, you will notice that there aren't any calculators with this features. If you were to search the words curie or becquerel or even megabecquerel in Google Keywords, you will notice that there are over 600,000 searches each month about these types of measurements. Scientists, academics, students, pharmaceutical companies, research centers to name a few that operate in this industry may have a need for such an app that can make these calculations. It is a niche market. How about the food industry or the construction industry. Do you know anybody who has experience in a particular field that you can talk to, in order to gain a feel for their industry, you may be able to get a idea for a niche app.

Here is another possible lead: My cousin's partner has a farming company, in addition to his own farm. He leases out equipment that runs on auto-pilot that sprays the fields with fertilizer and can track where the fertilizer was sprayed using a GPS and is linked to tablet computer in the cabin, which can be reached from another location. Hence he can control this huge piece of equipment while not even in the cabin. However, he was mentioned to me that it would be nice to be able to measure the nutrients in the soul and to relay that information to the on-board computer and adjust the levels of fertilizers, etc. How about an iPhone app that can receive information from farming activities in real time and to allow a farmer to send back data in real time.

There are possibly thousands of these unique opportunities out there not being met. Try and ask yourself these questions when researching your app.

1. What features to include

2. Who are the target users

3. Study the user groups

4. Are there other apps in same category as yours

5. How many?

6. What are their unique features

7. What are others charging for their apps

8. What is their highest ranking for the top apps in the target category

Angry Birds, created by Rovio, which has sold over 250 million copies is actually a re design of an old game from 1980s called Artillery which ran on a Commodore 64. How about a re designed Pac Man? Rovio borrowed the premise of that very successful game and gave it a new face. Rovio did their research.

Advertising & Promotion
The 1-99 Rule
1% inspiration - 99% Perspiration. After you have researched, designed and built your award winning app, you will have completed about 1% of the process. The next 99% is all perspiration as you apply the three golden rules of product success : Promote-Promote-Promote.

There are numerous advertising opportunities on the web that will either charge on a per-click basis, or up front payment like traditional ads. Here is a list of the top online advertising networks:

  1. AdWords (Adsense)
  2. AdBrite
  3. Bidvertiser
  4. Chitika
  5. Infolinks
  6. Intellilinks
  7. Pocket Cents
  8. Kontera
  9. Clicksor
  10. Exit Junction
  11. Dynamic Oxygen

As an example, although not related to apps, Dan Brown, the author of the "Da Vinci Code" bestseller, created a cottage industry around the idea of secrets codes and lost messages and mysteries. Overnight there were copycat books, television shows on PBS and Discovery. There were discussion and debates with church leaders. Yes he had a winning product, a great story with believable characters but his book would have been collecting dust in a warehouse somewhere if it weren’t for the fact that he and his wife sent out thousands of press releases to book stores, made public appearances, contacted television talk shows and countless other ways to get the word out about his book.

You need to do the same, send out press releases to online magazines, there are numerous site available to promote your app, including itunes. How about e-mail campaigns.

Create a product page about your app with either domain or as a domain to your main site. You can start providing news about your new app, maybe provide some screenshots as the UI becomes more polished. How about keeping a blog and offer tips related to the app or the business sector that your app belongs to.

In your opinion what makes an iPhone app successful

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Attractive pricing
Don't overprice your app. Unless you have a well established brand name that can demand higher prices, keep your prices in the $0.99 to $1.99 range. Even offer it free as a trial or better yet, offer it for free as a basic featured app, but use in-app purchase to upgrade to a version with more features.

Also you could try in-app ads. Heck, you could create an attractive banner ad to your web site where you may have other apps for sales.

Provide Regular Updates
Have a strategy from the "Get Go" to introduce new subtle changes on a regular basis. Keep your audience interested. If they bought your app before, good chance they will buy it again. When designing your app, make a list of features and then introduce them gradually. How about having an in app poll to gauge the users approval of an upcoming or newly introduced feature. How about a "Make a Suggestion" feature in the app, so that users can actually suggest new functionality for you. Not to over bloat your app, maybe you can remove a feature that is not popular or replace it with a revamped feature.

App Design

Keep It Simple Design
Many developers try to pack too many features into their apps making their apps sluggish and complicated to use. Instead try to cater to a specific need and keep it simple. IT is far better to have a very simple app with a unique but focused function that responds quickly to user input than to have an overboated app that is slow. Believe me, your customers will drop you like a hot brick and will probably leave less than desirable reviews to boot.

Create a nice navigation features and includes gestures. Make the navigation obvious since most won't read user documentation. Creating an easy to learn UI which includes a simple workflow will create a positive user experience.

Strong Focus

Having a razor sharp focus will require less time to market and will minimize the amount of support the app will require.


There is nothing more frustating than an app that is always slow, or hangs, or worst yet, crashes your device. Speed is the name of the game.

As an example, consider the Unix operating system on which the iOS operating system is derived. The whole premise of Unix and its incredible success lies in the fact that Unix is a collection of very small but highly focused programs that are started and stopped by the Unix runtime when needed. Instead of a bloated operating system like Windows, that as we all know, gets slower and slower the more you use it because of all the integrated systems, try removing Internet Explorer for fun or Windows Media Player, you get a sleek and elegant OS that is known and that has stood the test of time to speed and performance.

While Windows has to create a mobile version of their OS for smartphones, Unix and it derivative Linux, allow engineers to install only the components (programs) that is needed to operate their environments. Even Android and the BlackBerry Playbook are running on Linux and Posix, both Unix derivatives.

Clean and Attractive UI
Apple advocates a sleek and simple UI or User Interface. In fact Apple has a whole book devoted to the UI called the " iOS Human Interface Guidelines". Research and obtain high quality graphics for use in the UI or use an online freelance service like oDesk or Elance to have a professional graphic artist to do your artwork. It is surprisingly inexpensive to hire a graphic artists and other professionals through these services.

Have a Voice
Try to have a consistent look and feel in order to create a strong brand recognition. This will allow users to easily identify your apps and increase user acceptance since they will become familiar with identifiable navigation even if the apps are not related. Having similar icons and navigation will help reinforce the branding.

Universal Apps
Even if you are targeting the iPhone market, it is prudent to test and make the app also run on an iPad or iPod, (because Apple will and is one of the criteria for being accepted into the App Store). Also test your app on different versions of the iOS because different people will download your app and many may not have the version of the iOS that you have.

A final word of advice

There is no guarantees of success and the odds of creating another Angry Birds kind of success is very slim, especially if you are working on a limited budget. Most of the apps that are generating more than $50,000 in the App Store had a marketing and development budget in excess of $30,000. However, I firmly believe if you follow some or all of the tips in this article, you can start building a successful portfolio of apps that pay out on a regular basis and will provide a steady stream of income.


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    • klanguedoc profile image

      Kevin Languedoc 5 years ago from Canada

      Certainly as you said this can apply to any endeavor afterall, an app is a product like any other and the same principals apply. Thanks for the vote.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      You made some great points here. How often do we want to 'make that first million'? This advice can apply to so much more than iPhone apps but certainly leads the way to iPhone app research.

      Very well done. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • klanguedoc profile image

      Kevin Languedoc 5 years ago from Canada

      Thanks, I am glad that my hub was helpful.

    • drspaniel profile image

      drspaniel 5 years ago from Somewhere, where the sun shines once a year...

      Great! Now I know what to look out for when I'm reviewing an iPhone/iPod Touch App! :)