The wisdom of the ancients is passed through generations and historically has been the best way to learn. Some highlights from the armed forces are, ‘if you don’t know which way the Claymore is pointing, it is pointed at you’, and, ‘if everything is going exactly as planned you have just walked into an ambush’. And while it may feel that app development is sometimes a form of psychological warfare, never fear; there are some tricks and tips to be learned from those who have gone before. So, we’re now going to take a look at five successful apps from various app ‘genres’, if indeed we can apply that term. From social media, we’ve got Instagram and Snapchat; from games, Trivia Crack and Clash of Clans, and bringing up the lifestyle section, we have Evernote. While I was researching these apps, I stayed away from the obvious big players that were offshoots of a mothership, like Facebook Messenger and the Youtube player. I was more interested in innovative apps, designed from the ground up specifically for the smartphone generation, which have gone on to global success and acclaim. Hopefully taking a closer look at them will give you some ideas or at least insight into building and maintain a successful app.
1 – Instagram
So kicking things off, we have the visual social networking behemoth, Instagram. While you’re probably familiar with all the apps on this list, I’d bet my bottom dollar every single person reading this knows Instagram; nevertheless, here’s a cursory glance over the basics. Instagram lets users upload photos they’ve taken from their iPhone and apply different filters to it, in order to make their snap more visually appealing, ideally garnering them more likes from their peers as they set their creations loose upon the digital world. The app was created in sunny Frisco Bay in 2010, launching as a free mobile app (it still is free). Less than two years later, it had 100 million active users; fours years later, it had triple that. In January 2011, Instagram took the genius step of adding ‘hashtags’ to help users discover both photographs and each other, bringing the interaction aspect of the app to a whole new level. Its name is a portmanteau of ‘instant camera’ and ‘telegram’, while its thumbnail icon is an old Polaroid camera. Instagram leans heavy on the old retro/nostalgic vibe, and indeed, this a major component of its blazing success. The app really can make pictures look beautiful with its many filter options, while rendering moments of real-life through a kind of dreamy haze, making them at once iconic and memorable. Its ‘community’ driven aspect, which ‘rewards’ pictures with likes from other users, seems to be a more successful validation system than even Facebook, while its multi-faceted usage, which includes celebrities, brands, restaurants and everything in between, make it a one stop shop for promotion personal projection. In 2013, the app sold to Facebook, proving that a picture is indeed worth more than a thousand words. Quite a lot more in fact; the deal was worth a reported $1 billion.
2 – Trivia Crack
Forget Candy Crush Saga; Trivia Crack is the latest red-hot mobile game, and in recent months has surpassed it competitors by a ridiculous margin. For sixty-six days straight, Trivia Crack sat atop the pinnacle of the Free app charts, defending its place among strong favourites like Youtube and Snapchat. Candy Crush only managed five days at the top spot; Angry Birds never reached it at all. So what is Triva Crack? Playing like a sort of updated Trival Pursuit, the app is a massive multiplayer game that pits two players against each other by asking them a series of trivia questions in six general categories. The main conceit with Trivia Crack is that it manages to keep us hooked while quizzing and educating us about a large range of topics, from sports and geography to history and entertainment. Not many apps can claim that. Trivia Crack is an interesting case study, because it was a relative overnight success in the US charts; a few months ago, it was unheard of in North America. Not so in South America, where the app had its genesis; it had phenomenal success, and as it grew and grew, the developers suspect that word of mouth literally travelled up-country, as their Mexican users started telling their friends and family in the US about the app. The app is addictive and thrilling; playing against real people really ups the ante, and it has a great delaying mechanism that means you don’t have to invest a lot of time in a game at once. Trivia Crack is now a brand, both online and offline. The first piece of its licensing rollout is a board game that will hit the shelves in Argentina. On top of that, the app has actually become a real-life television show in its native country. If that isn’t simultaneously indicative of success and the sheer power of word of mouth when it comes to apps, then my name isn’t Eric Rodney Compton.
3 – Evernote
Evernote is one of the apps on this list that will genuinely improve your life if you use it in the right way. That alone was enough to guarantee it continued success, and if you too can find something to make people’s life easier, you too can soon start planning a three-floor house in Bel Air. Evernote is a suite of software and services designed for notetaking and archiving. A ‘note’ in this case can be a piece of formatted text, a full webpage or webpage excerpt, a photograph, a voice memo, or a handwritten “ink” note. It follows the freemium model in that it is free to download but contains a load of premium content, which users have the option of paying for. Launched in 2008, the pap quickly gained traction and had 11 million users by mid-2011. It has scored millions in development funding through its lifespan, and has also cleverly used its position to partner with other high-profile brands like Moleskin, to produce further premium products. It is the clearest example of the new-age freemium model in all its financial glory, and as such, should be looked to by young developers as the blueprint for that plan.
4 – Snapchat
Alarmingly, the mulit-million dollar Snapchat was created by university students. Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to any number of their connected ‘friends’. The sent photographs and videos are known as ‘Snaps’. Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps, somewhere between one and ten seconds, after which they will be hidden from the recipient’s device and deleted from Snapchat’s servers. There are some recent figures available which demonstrate the terrifying success of this seemingly simple app; in May of last year, users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while ‘Stories’ (photos or videos that are posted in a communal section for twenty four hours) were being viewed 500 million times a day. Despite suspicions that a large amount of these snaps would fall under the ‘sexting’ banner, research indicates that’s not altogether accurate. While sending sexual content was a factor in users’ behavior, results showed that the app was used for a variety of creative reasons. In fact, I suspect its success is largely owed to it being a great creative outlet for the smartphone generation. Snaps are routinely amusing, even impressive. The transitory nature make them exciting; they can highly personal or entirely general, irreverent or irrelevant. Snapchat is likely to be around for a long, long time and continuously successful, due to it being a blank canvas. Creativity always requires an outlet, and again, a picture is always worth a thousand words.
5 – Clash of Clans
The last entry on our list also operates under the same freemium model as Evernote, but in a very different way. Developed in and originating from Finland (further proof that a good idea is simply a good idea in any language), Clash of Clans is a massively multiplayer online game in which players build a community, train troops and attack other players to earn the in-game currency of gold, elixir and dark elixirs. They should possibly be in capitals. Daily revenues for this game equaled around $2.4 million, an incredible amount, while just last February, COC launched a commercial during the Super Bowl, featuring no less than Liam Neeson, parodying his character from Taken. So what made Clash of Clans the runaway hit that it is? Creating a successful game is tough, especially when there’s so much competition out there. First of all, COC looks great and makes an awesome first impression. Its graphics and gameplay appeal to all ages. You can get as deep into as you like; the game sustains short bursts of play but also lets you become submerged for hours if that’s your style. The developers Supercell, balance great gameplay with a very smart revenue model that hooks people for free and keeps them with premium content. Clash of Clans has been atop the Grossing App chart for some time, and is consistently number one. Combining this successful approach and others from the above games will teach you a lot about what it takes to make successful app in today’s over-saturated market.