What Makes A Great App?

What Makes Apps Great?

Ryley Newsham wrote me last week to ask, "What is it that makes a great app? For instance, think of your favourite game, and your friends favourite game. Now what is it that makes that app their favourite? Is it the interface? The gameplay? The genre?"

As a mobile app developer, Ryley is struggling to wrap his mind around the same thing we all are. What makes a great app?

I've been thinking about it over the weekend, and here are a few thoughts of mine.

  • It has a polished design - A polished design creates an element of trust between me and the app. Keep in mind that design is more than pretty graphics and color palettes. Design is layout and function. A well thought out app does what you naturally expect it to do without a lot of user training. It's intuitive.
  • It has excellent graphics - I like shinny things and with all the noise in the world, I'm honestly looking for reasons not to pay attention to things. Bad graphics are my go to reason not to use an app. If the developer didn't invest time in their graphics, then I'm not investing time in their app.
  • It solves a problem - Every app needs to earn a place on my device. I have limited resources, time, and patience and I can only download so many fart apps. The apps on my device must solve a problem. And yes, I do have games on my devices because boredom is a problem. Not a life threatening problem, but when I'm bored, I want to be entertained and games solve that problem when it arises.
  •  It saves me time - Apps that save me time earn a place on my home screen. Time is the only thing I can't earn and if I can get something done faster with one app over another app, then the one that saves me time wins.
  • It makes me money - Apps that make me money are cheap regardless of their price. There's a lot of discussion about what the price of apps should be, but the one thing that is clear to me is that an apps price is relative, if that app makes me money. As a consumer, I don't have an infinite pile of cash to pay for things, but if I know an app will put me ahead of my competition, allow me to do something on the road, service a client, or manage on a part of my business, then cost relative to the business value it brings.

These are the things that come to mind for me. I know there are more moving parts than just these five elements so I asked Toff Ward to share his thoughts as well.

Here's his list:

  • Originality - or at least a semblance of being different. How many clones do we see in the app store? i understand that people are trying to get a piece of the action in a specific category, but when you create a low quality clone of a game that is high quality, do you really think its going to do well? What you need is a twist that makes your app special, different, original.
  • Personalization (how do they make it their own?) - If people liked the same thing as everyone else, then cars wouldn?t be custom painted, there would be only one iPod cover, and clothing would be grey jumpsuits. Its nice to have something that represents individuality. If your app doesn?t allow someone to add their own personal touch to it, find a way to let them. and then let them show it off using social media!
  • Story (everyone likes a good story) - I like stories. I like reading. When I was a kid, I grew up reading mythology and Isaac Asimov. Apps needs to have a story associated with them. I enjoyed playing ?Highborn?. This app had a hilarious story behind it. Granted, I liked the game, but even if the game had been mediocre, the story would have kept me hooked. I keep reminding myself of the Ultima PC game series in all of its 8 bit glory. It had a story that kept you going, despite the graphics and sporadic sound card support (my game had no sound). With a little bit of creativity, you turn just about anything into an action adventure. Just ask my middle school teacher who gave me a C- for turning an Expository essay into an arena battle with minotaurs on unicycles.
  • Artwork (art is life, just ask Andy) - This is the Holy Grail for your app. a good looking app with professional level artwork will immediately improve the sale-ability of your app in the market. Even lipstick on a pig is better than just a pig. You can even take an existing genre of game and give it an original style of artwork in order to differentiate your app. Imagine your app as a girl (or guy, or other) walking into a bar. Is someone going to buy her/him/it a drink and make rude suggestions, or is she/he/it invisible?
  • Solves a problem - Someone suggested a Disney World app to me right before I took the family to Disney World. The app provided me with the wait times in line for every ride. People were submitting the information from their phone and I was getting incredibly valuable advice on the fly. This app was worth ten times its cost. It solved a problem. Now, it is being recommended to anyone who is going to Disney.
  • Opens up a new opportunity - I had never thought of using my iPad in the kitchen. I don?t know why it didn?t occur to me, but it didn?t. When I suddenly needed to figure out how to bake sugar cookies, I ran to my computer and suddenly realized that this was the perfect opportunity to use my iPad as a recipe book.
  • Makes an existing task faster or easier - Hint, hint, this is why Corona SDK is so incredibly valuable for app development. if your app can tap into an existing task and make it easier to manage, for instance, I can update my wordpress websites directly from my phone through an easy to use app. This is particularly useful for business apps and paying higher prices for business apps is acceptable, because it has a tangible purpose. Even game helpers that give you command lists or maps can be helpful.

What's on your "great app" list?

So, let me put the question to you. What do you think makes an app great? Is it form, function, design? Post your comments below and tell me what you think makes a great app.

Charles McKeever
CoronaGeek.com

Charles McKeever (145 Posts)

Charles McKeever is the founder of Open Source Marketer, a web development company that helps business owners with the design, build, and marketing of their businesses online. Charles is new to the Corona SDK and loves talking about everything mobile. Connect with him on one of your favorite social media hangouts.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/charlesmckeever Charles McKeever

    If you know of a design guide or some other resource out there that addresses this concept, let me know. Putting together a checklist or essentials guide would be a valuable resource.

  • Ryley Newsham

    Not too much I can add besides emphasis on the graphics. I went up to a few people on their phones at a shopping mall (strangest experience ever) and asked them the same question, most of the responses I got were “If it serves a purpose” or “Looks good” or “I have control”

    • http://CoronaGeek.com Toff

      I like to think of it in terms of story, artwork, tech. Getting all three is tough. Corona provides the tech part, but you still need good graphics to polish it up and the underlying game design needs to actually work and have an original personality. I actually kind of like the idea of doing a survey of consumers. We can obviously look at what they are buying, but we can’t always figure out why. There’s also the fact that you tend to buy what is presented to you as opposed to spending a lot of time seeking out something from an indie.