The difference between a successful app and an also-ran is often the care taken when you execute on your original idea. Here are ten things to keep an eye on if you're striving for app success.
These ideas are all suggestions drawn from the final judging panel for our recent app competition, which saw Windows app developers competing for the chance to present their app at TechEd 2013 Australia. As we worked through the finalist apps, these were ideas that kept coming up. Bear in mind these were already apps that had impressed our judges in earlier rounds, so this is very much about the polish.
Whatever your target platform, these hints are worth bearing in mind as you develop an app and bring it to market.
1. Maintain design consistency
Nothing makes an app look amateur more than inconsistent design. Pick a colour scheme and some core design elements and stick to them. Follow the rules for your platform (stick to the standard fonts and interface on Windows 8; don't place a Back button near the top of the screen on Android). Avoid mixing stylised and real-life elements; choose an approach and stick to it.
2. Identify the problem you're solving
A successful app solves a clear problem. That could be very broad (how can I keep track of all my ideas?) or very narrow (how can I better manage my child's sports team?) Regardless, if you can't identify with the scope of the problem, your app will seem like a waste of space.
3. Take advantage of the platform
Draw on the resources that exist for your target platform. That might be the contacts app everyone uses; it might be a standardised platform approach to search; it might be a built-in payment mechanism. Don't make life harder for your users by introducing unfamiliar alternatives to familiar concepts.
4. You don't live in isolation
Tablet and smartphone apps might run in full-screen, but no modern device is single purpose. Make sure there are options to export data from your apps in ways that make sense.
5. Ensure your app is easy to get started with
After months of app development, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that most people will only have a vague idea how your app works when they first install it. As well as following our earlier tip to ensure you stick to platform standards, make sure you incorporate getting started tutorials and other elements to ensure new users aren't left bewildered.
6. Know how you will monetise
There are numerous ways to monetise: charge for apps; charge for upgrades; charge for additional services; incorporate advertising. Whatever your approach, identify it and integrate it as soon as possible; it's harder to add a new monetisation option after the fact, and you'll risk annoying users.
7. Test, test, then test some more
Bugs lurk where you least expect them. Potential customers can be a great source of new ideas. Don't just rely on your own testing; get the app out amongst people who might actually use it.
8. Check your spelling
Spelling errors spell an unprofessional attitude. Apps contain lots of text, and every word and phrase needs to be checked and double-checked.
9. Think about why people will share your app
Standing out from the crowd often requires a "viral coefficient" — a reason people will tell others about your app. What makes you better than the rest? Why would someone tell someone else about your product?
10. Make your title and description informative
The other major way people will find your app is via search. If your app name and description don't include relevant keywords, no-one will ever see it. Don't miss out on downloads through being obscure.