We take apps for granted these days; they are everywhere, helping us along with all manner of tasks, while providing entertainment, humour and much of our modern social lives along the way. Imagine trying to find your way to a meeting spot without consulting Google Maps, or not being able to message your friend for free whenever you wanted; this is what life was like just a mere fifteen-odd years ago! There are some of the younger generation who will probably never know what life was like without apps; and in truth, they probably won’t need to for the foreseeable future.
But like any industry, there was a time when apps were just starting out, when they were a niche form of technology that only a few intelligent minds were betting strongly on. 2018 will be the tenth anniversary of the App Store opening up digitally to the public, and the distance it’s come in just a few short years is staggering. Compared to today’s overcrowded landscape, the lay of the land in 2008 was quite a different spectacle; and compared to today’s flagship successful apps, the initial big hitters of the format tell a different story altogether. Have some managed to survive the onslaught of app-based technology and continue to be successful ten years on? Were they all flash-in-the-pan fads? We take a look at four huge apps in the early days of smartphones, and discover the foundations of the titanic app dynasty.
1 – PhoneSaber
The developers of this one were banking on riding the coattails of a popular franchise to introduce their app to the world; and it worked. The PhoneSaber was a genuine craze that swept through those who were hip enough to own smartphones in 2008; if you didn’t have one yourself, you definitely had a friend who went to great pains to show off his or her new phone, and demonstrate a (pretty poor) imitation of a lightsaber while he or she was at it (though it did make the famous noise when you swung it). The app looks laughably primitive these days, and developer LucasArts killed it off in the intervening year. However, it refused to die completely, and a newer version of the same basic idea (with a few modern tweaks) can be found in the App Store under the unimaginative name Lightsaber.
2 – Rolando
Rolando was released exclusively for i0S on December 18 2008, and quickly became one of the most obsessive games of the early smartphone years. It was one of the first games on the platform to take advantage of the iPhone’s tilting mechanism, whereby you could influence the game by physically twisting your phone, as opposed to pressing digital buttons on the screen. The basic premise of the game is that you must roll your ‘Rolandos’ (little circular fruit things) to the end of the level by careful manoeuvring of the tilt mechanism. In 2018 it seems like an obvious gimmick, as many games and apps require the user to move the phone. But back in 2008, it was a fad that took smartphone gaming by storm, and opened up many doors for future games to dominate the market in their own way. The original incarnation of Rolando is no longer available in the App Store, but hundreds (possibly thousands) of games take their cues from this pioneering little classic.
3 – Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D
Featuring the lovable mascot of the popular Crash Bandicoot franchise, Nitro Kart proved to be a stellar hit amongst iPhone users, and was once the most downloaded app on the App Store. Even in the early days, that was some distinction, as one billion apps were downloaded in the first year of the App Store alone. The bright, vivid graphics were pretty competent for their time, and although the game took many cues from the ever-successful Mario Kart series, its popularity remained robust for many months following its release (though there’s not much 3D about it, even by 2008 standards). The game came with a hefty enough price tag too ($6 upon release), and by hitting the top spot a year later, helped developers and investors see that the App Store was not just a fad, and that there was serious money to be made in these digital hills. Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart is still alive and kicking today, though has been outclassed by its predecessors, and no longer can be found in the Top 200 Paid Games list.
4 – Evernote
Evernote is an anomaly among the early successful apps of the smartphone era; it is one of the few that can claim to still be blazingly popular today. It’s not a game or a distraction; the key to its continuing popularity might be the fact that it genuinely helps people out in their day-to-day lives. Evernote is a cross-platform app that’s utilised for note-taking, organising and general tasks that people all over the world encounter daily. Of course, it has been reshaped and redesigned throughout the years in accordance with user’s needs and growing demands, but the fact of the matter is that it remains one of the most popular apps in the marketplace today, even after a decade of releases and app innovation. If you can hit upon a nice for your app, as Evernote did, you will certainly reap the benefits long into the future.
App development doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon; millions upon millions of apps are available to smartphone users across the world, and it’s safe to say that as long as we have smartphones, we will have apps. The key to making 100% successful apps remains elusive; but in your quest for app success, you can certainly learn a lot by studying the fortunes and tactics of the winners and losers who have gone before.