Friday, August 24, 2012

What makes a successful app? Solve a problem

For our new app, we decided we need a new checklist to evaluate the viability of our idea. We developed this checklist by studying successful apps and identifying the qualities that they all share. Each of these Friday tips will be about one question to ask yourself when you are developing an app or even just coming up with an idea.

Our first question for the checklist is:  

Does this product/service solve a common problem?

(In fact, if you don't have an app idea yet, looking for a problem to solve is a good first step!) Most of the successful apps we see solve a problem.

In our case, we think the answer is yes, our app solves a problem (sorry we can't divulge yet what the app is about).

During the planning for SoDunked!, we were thinking “fun” and “games”. At the time, there were at least 3 apps in the top 100 that were just about passing gas (pooting, futzing—my mother couldn't say the word aloud and I can't write it) and there were also several about lobbing nasal secretions.

Needs no caption!
Just one of many
I bring these up only to say that at the time we decided to build SoDunked!, simple entertainment and novelty apps were very popular and seemed like a good choice with which to enter the app market.

Today, things are different. The age of the novelty app has passed (did you know that Apple even states in its submission guidelines that developers really need not submit any more gas-passing apps?). Statistics say that game apps are declining in popularity as well. So, Lyle and I (and lots of more expert folks) think that the age of the useful app has begun in earnest. (I've seen more expense reporting and productivity apps than I can wade through—fyi, some reviews at,, and

For evaluating your app ideas, here are some suggestions:
  1. You could run your app idea through this variation on the "Does this solve a problem?" question: Does my [photo app idea] do it better or differently than the several hundred that are already at the app store? Or, do I have something that no other [expense report] apps have that will make it stand out and garner enough attention to earn revenue or generate buzz. 
  2. Lyle chimes in, from his perch behind an iPad across the room, that "Does this solve a problem?" is a question you should ask at many decision points throughout your app and business development process, not just about the general function of the app and not just during the idea and planning phases. When you are considering spending another chunk of time or money to add a new feature, change the layout, add more artwork, or to involve more people as investors or owners, and so forth, ask yourself whether doing this is solving a problem—is it helping me get to my goal or is it just bells and whistles or something my kid—or a vocal investor—is begging we roll into the app.
  3. In fact, Lyle and I both say aloud at the same time, "don't just ask yourself—ask a few other people for their expert opinions" on the decisions you face. They can help you get perspective on whether that next step will solve a problem or divert you from your purpose. Then review those opinions and your own analysis to decide what to do. If you don't know anyone with the experience you need, you can usually get free advice from networking, cold calls, or reading an expert's blog.
  4. Be sure you know your market—search on your app idea both in iTunes (or other app stores) and on the web. Again, ask someone if you can find someone to ask. Remember that sometimes it's worth it to go to your nearest public or institutional library—a reference librarian can help with this sort of question, even in the digital age. (We are big fans of real live librarians.)
So, that’s our Business 101 tip—make sure your app or business is solving a problem. No one needs another fart app (oops, I wrote it); however, a "how to prevent [or distract from] them during business meetings" app might just be viable. There’ll be another tip for the checklist next Friday, so stay tuned.

And, when you need to let off steam as you watch someone release their app that looks a lot like the one you've been working on for months but haven't yet released, go dunk ‘em with SoDunked!

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