5 Proven Formulas of the World’s Best Mobile Apps

5 Proven Formulas of the World’s Best Mobile Apps
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Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 the market for mobile apps has grown at a mind blowing pace.

According to Venture Beat, apps for mobile could generate $70bn in revenue by 2017 and were responsible for $35b in mergers and acquisitions last year.

Perhaps it’s little surprise given how much mobile apps have devoured traditional use of the internet, away from desktop and mobile browsing.

With all this heat in mobile, most companies have pointed their digital and innovation teams to the challenge of producing apps for customers. But this is no easy task. For every successful mobile app on Google, Apple or Windows, there are thousands that haven’t done as well.

In this post we look at 5 formulas followed by the best mobile apps in the world. Regardless of industry, you can apply these to give you own mobile app the best chance of cut-through in a busy market.

1. Does the mobile app answer a compelling and frequent need, at a time when its important?

When banks invested in mobile banking, they responded directly to the compelling and frequent user need to ‘check their balance’. If you don’t have a positive balance in your account, you might not be able to pay for the dinner that you’re about to eat, or buy that incredible coat that’s on sale. Before mobile banking the alternative was to run to the nearest ATM or phone a call centre. Today this simple action drives the majority of traffic for mobile banking apps internationally.

Compelling and frequent needs – just like checking balance – are essential for a successful mobile apps. And the same principle occurs in many other apps, whether it’s keeping tabs on your team’s score in a football game, through to checking the latest new stories first thing in the morning. Whatever the app, answering a compelling and frequent need will give your app the best chance of success,

2. Does the mobile app perform ‘the compelling need’ and other functions exceedingly well?

On paper it’s easy to define a functional mobile app.

For example, for mobile banking, we would include checking balances, viewing recent transactions, searching previous transactions, and so on.

But not all mobile apps perform their functions extremely well. This is the difference between ‘form’ and ‘function’. The ‘form’ of the mobile app is all about the ‘experience’ of being able to use functionality simply and easily.

If we only aswer the question of ‘what functions’ our will app perform, without thinking about the ‘form’ of how these functions will be performed, we only answer one half of the question.  The risk is that we dilute the experience of our app for customers.

As a simple test, think about the apps that you would consider 4 or 5 stars, and how ‘form’ plays an important role in your rating of them.

Likely all of the apps you have in mind provide a simple, fast, and seemless experience in a beautiful form.

3. Does the mobile app fulfill a greater purpose in the user’s life?

While solving a customer challenge is important, so too is fulfilling a greater customer purpose.

Doing this creates a meaningful place for the app not only in the customer’s day to day routine, but also within the context of longer term goals.

For example, mobile banking apps give customers ‘financial control’, the LinkedIn app lets customers “take charge of their career” and facebook allows people to “stay connected with their social circles”.  One of my favorites…Evernote isn’t just a note taking app, it’s the ‘space to do your life’s work’, and it delivers on this promise by letting users pick up any device and see what they’ve recorded as inspiration.

For your mobile app concept, ask how it fulfills a higher purpose in the user’s world.

4. Does the mobile app provide the user with at least one magical experience?

Magic is what is created when the user has an experience that gives them complete surprise and fascination. It makes them say ‘wow, I never thought of this!’, let alone that it could happen in the palm of their hand.

When the Buffer app pulls from your reservoir of shared posts, to automatically send your updates via Twitter and Linked In, it’s like Buffer is doing your work for you even when you sleep. When Spotify lets you select from zillions of songs and stream them directly to your phone, without the need to pay for or download a single track, this delights listeners. When you open Feedly and see the app has beautifully curated 40 articles for you to read based on your personal preferences, it’s like having your own personal news editor.

To have sticking power, mobile apps need to create at least one magical experience to be truly different in the market.

5. Does the mobile app serve a succinct objective / purpose for the business creating it?

This final question is less simple to answer for businesses other than your own, but is just as vital. For a mobile app to be successful, it has to be closely connected with your strategy and fulfill a specific objective for your business.

This could be to ‘grow customers’ or ‘lift customer engagement’ or ‘reduce cost’. It could be to ‘build an online community’ or ‘increase online sales’. Often this question requires us to consider the connection of the mobile app with our mission statement.

As an example, facebook’s mission is ‘to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected’. It is plain to see how facebook’s mobile app (with its ability to connect with friends, write on walls, read activity feeds, share events, and so on) is integrally tied to it’s mission.

If the mobile app is directly connected to a business objective (or multiple objectives) which are measured over time, there is the best chance of it receiving priority for future investment.


I'm a digital strategist and channel manager with 15 years experience in digital, across marketing, e-commerce, online sales, digital and mobile app strategy. Companies I've worked for include Coles, ANZ and GlaxoSmithKline. I'm also a graduate and previous sessional lecturer of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University.
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